Preparation starts for World Cup
Uncapped trio in Scots squad for Autumn Tests
Head coach Gregor Townsend says the preparations begin now for the World Cup in Japan (pic: SNS Group)
Head coach Gregor Townsend has named three uncapped players in a 40-man Scotland squad for the 2018 Autumn Tests.
The trio to get the nod are Scarlets back-row Blade Thomson, Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner and Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson.
Scotland play three home Tests against Fiji, South Africa and Argentina next month after a friendly against Wales in Cardiff on 3 November.
“We now begin the last 12 months of our preparations for Rugby World Cup 2019 with four Test matches in four weeks, a similar challenge to the one we’ll face in Japan,” said Townsend.
“We’ve named a 40-man group for this campaign, which highlights the quality of player that is now available to us and the competition for places.
“It’s going to be an exciting year for the squad but our primary focus is fixed on performing well against Wales – familiar opponents who have already recorded a win against us this year.”
Thomson and Skinner are eligible for the national team through family connections, Thomson through his paternal grandfather, Robert, from Wishaw, while Skinner’s father, Peter, is from Ayr.
Skinner (23) was first involved in the then Scottish Exiles programme as a teenager, while at Taunton Titans, before he joined the Chiefs in the 2014/15 season.
He was then selected for England U20 – and faced many of his Scotland contemporaries in the age-grade Six Nations – before becoming an increasingly prominent part of the Exeter squad that won the English Premiership title for the first time in 2017 and finished as runners-up in last year’s final.
Thomson (27) arrived in west Wales from Super Rugby side Hurricanes, having represented New Zealand U20 and the Maori All Blacks, and has been a stand-out performer for the Llanelli side in his debut Guinness PRO14 season.
Johnson (25) is eligible for Scotland on residency grounds, having joined Glasgow Warriors in the summer of 2015.
The Australian-born centre has been a popular figure at the Scotstoun club, making 40 appearances since his arrival and voted last year’s Players’ Player of the Season by his peers.
The squad also welcomes the return of several seasoned campaigners who missed the summer tour either through injury or a summer of scheduled rest, which sees the likes of Alex Dunbar, Jonny Gray, Huw Jones, Greig Laidlaw, Sean Maitland, Willem Nel, Gordon Reid, Finn Russell, Tommy Seymour, Ryan Wilson and Hamish Watson all back in the squad.
The selection also marks the return of centre Matt Scott and scrum-half Henry Pyrgos, who last featured in a Scotland shirt in the side’s 2017 wins over Australia in Sydney in June and Edinburgh last November, respectively
Townsend added: “We had a productive summer tour in which a number of players made their first outing for their country. A lot of those players have continued to perform well for their clubs and have merited re-selection in a strong group.
“We also welcome Blade and both Sams into the squad. We are looking forward to working with them and getting our squad back together for the first time since the summer.
“It will be a very challenging series, with the Wales Test providing a very tough contest before three huge matches at BT Murrayfield later that month.”
Forwards: Alex Allan (Glasgow Warriors), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh), Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Allan Dell (Edinburgh), David Denton (Leicester Tigers), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Murray McCallum (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Willem Nel (Edinburgh), Gordon Reid (London Irish), Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Blade Thomson (Scarlets), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors).
Backs: Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Dougie Fife (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Newcastle Falcons), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors), George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Pete Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Lee Jones (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Greig Laidlaw (Clermont Auvergne), Sean Maitland (Saracens), Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors), Henry Pyrgos (Edinburgh), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors).