AFTER winning one solitary cap to date against Tonga last autumn, Ross Thompson has what appears to be an ideal chance to add to his tally in the coming weeks against Argentina.
With no Finn Russell or Adam Hastings in the Scotland tour squad, the Glasgow Warriors player is one of only two specialist stand-offs in the party along with Blair Kinghorn.
When he announced his squad two weeks ago, Gregor Townsend noted that Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson can also slot in at 10. We will find out a lot more about the head coach’s thinking this afternoon, when he announces his Scotland ‘A’ squad for Saturday’s match against Chile, but as things stand it appears that his Plan A for the three-Test series against the Pumas is to go with Kinghorn as his principal playmaker and have Thompson as back-up, with Hutchinson emergency cover.
Which begs the question: what does Thompson have to do to go ahead of Kinghorn in the pecking order and be named in the starting line-up? Playing a blinder against the Chileans, if he gets the chance, would clearly do his cause no harm.
But might he also have to rely on Kinghorn falling short of expectations? Or wait until the third Test when, if the series is already won or lost, Townsend will have scope for a degree of experimentation?
The Warriors player and his Edinburgh rival are certainly very different kinds of fly-half. Kinghorn’s off-beat creativity and sense of adventure mean he can play a similar kind of game to Russell, while his speed and robustness make him a threat with ball in hand. Thompson, by contrast, is more level-headed: his game management is often shrewder, and he can be relied upon to orchestrate his outside backs more smoothly.
Those attributes are contrasting, but put them in the same matchday 23 and they could also be complementary. Perhaps the ideal is that Kinghorn starts and helps Scotland into a decent lead with around 15 minutes to go, at which point Thompson comes on and closes the game out.
So while there is internal competition, there is also a lot of co-operation, and certainly, Thompson has a substantial amount of admiration for his team-mate. “He’s a great player and has a really good natural ability to spot the gap and play into space,” the 23-year-old said of Kinghorn, who is two years older.
“His ability to beat defenders too is really good. I’ve had the chance to train beside a lot of the Glasgow boys for a while, but coming into this environment it’s nice to bounce off different players - players you haven't played as much with.”
Asked what it would take to supplant Kinghorn in the Test line-up, Thompson continued: “Just train really well. I have to train as well as I can, and that’s what they will pick the team off.
“Any sort of squad you get put into, it’s an opportunity to stick your hand up. With Adam and Finn not being here, it’s more of an opportunity.
“If I get the opportunity in games, for me as a 10 it’s more about facilitating the others and bringing them into the game. That’s the thing I’ll be trying to do.
“They [the coaches] want us to come in and be ourselves. That’s how you get the best out of the team. If you get that environment and play the rugby they want to and help the team win, that’s the sort of thing that creates the best culture.”
The last time Scotland toured, back in 2018, Thompson was still a Glasgow Hawks player, where he was coached by Pete Horne. Then a Warriors player, Horne, now retired from playing, has just returned to Scotstoun as an assistant coach, so will again play a big role in Thompson’s development. Townsend, like Horne, was a stand-off in his playing days, and along with other former 10s such as Chris Paterson has already advised Thompson from time to time.
“The coaches come into Glasgow every so often and send you clips every three or four games, and I’ll try and sit down with a couple of the coaches and review some of the things that they think I could be doing better,” Thompson added. “Having that balance between the coaches at Glasgow and another set of opinions with Gregor and other coaches at Scotland here is really good to create more of an understanding.
“From my position, it’s about building up my understanding of the game as much as possible. It’s important to take on different opinions.”
Of course, Townsend’s opinion will be the one that counts most when it comes to team selection over the coming few weeks. How he chooses to deploy his contrasting options at stand-off will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the tour.