Scotland: Gregor Towsend delighted for Ruaridh McConnochie and comments on new eligibility ruling

Head coach Gregor Townsend says he is delighted that Ruaridh McConnochie can fulfil an
Head coach Gregor Townsend says he is delighted that Ruaridh McConnochie can fulfil an

Head coach Gregor Townsend says he is delighted that Ruaridh McConnochie can fulfil an “ambition” of playing for Scotland after he switched international allegiance from England.

McConnochie is the second player to make the switch to Scotland after representing another Test nation, following former Wallaby back-rower Jack Dempsey.

Test allegiance switch

In January last year, World Rugby’s eligibility ruling allowed made it possible for a player to represent a second Test nation provided they have ‘a close and credible link to that union via birth-right.’

Scotland took advantage of it last year with Dempsey converting from Australia to Scotland and have done so again after McConnochie completed the required three-year cooling-off period between caps.

The 31-year-old Bath wing made two appearances for England – including one at the 2019 World Cup. Injuries hampered his ability to establish himself in the squad, but he now has a second chance at international level with the nation of his father’s birth.

Townsend on McConnochie’s eligibility and talent

If McConnochie makes his Test debut for Scotland, he will become the first player in the modern era to represent England and Scotland at the highest level. 

“When the rule changed, we were quickly aware of who that would apply to,” said Townsend, explaining the process behind McConnochie’s surprise call-up.

“There were a couple who called us we weren’t aware of, but Ruaridh was one we’ve known about his Scottish qualification for a while.

“In October, I spent a day in Bath and caught up with Ruaridh, and he told me it was his ambition to get into a Scotland squad at some stage.

“He knew how tough that would be given the quality of player in our squad, but it was great that I was able to phone him last night and tell him that he had fulfilled that ambition.

“He played for England at the last World Cup, which shows the quality of player he is. He has been unlucky with injuries over the last two or three years, but it’s been great that he has played over the last month.

“He has an opportunity now that he’s earned but also an opportunity that’s opened up because of Darcy Graham’s injury.”

New caps

Joining McConnochie in the squad are fellow uncapped players Ben Healy, Cameron Henderson and Stafford McDowall.

Former Ireland u20s and Munster flyhalf Healy will join Edinburgh at the end of the season. He is Scottish-qualified through his mother and will provide backup at flyhalf with Adam Hastings sidelined. 

“He brings recent form and experience playing at a high level, and we feel he’s got Test match ability,” said Townsend. 

“His kicking game is strong, he’s confident, and he leads the attack well when he gets the opportunity to do that at Munster.

“It’s really the last two weeks prior to the weekend’s game (that helped him get in). It’s timely that his form has come at a time when he is committing to us.

“With Adam Hastings being injured, he now gets a chance to train with us and for us to see him.”

Squad availability

Gregor Townsend has named a large squad to prepare for the Six Nations, with 40 players included.  

The likes of Hamish Watson and Zander Fagerson are included despite being sidelined by injury in recent months, but Darcy Graham, Scott Cummings, Rory Darge and Hastings – who have also been battling fitness issues – have not made the squad.

The Scotland boss explained that he only picked players in his initial squad that have a realistic chance of being involved in the opener against England on February 4. 

He did add that others could be called in at a later date.

“Everyone in our squad is available as we speak for England,” said the head coach. 

“Rory and Scott were going to be touch and go for England, so we felt it was not right to put them in the squad if they’re not in line for that game.

“They may be fit around that game or the Wales game, but we don’t think coming straight back into a Test match after being out so long is the right thing by them.

“Zander’s different because he’s not been out as long, and he’s been training well over the last couple of weeks.

“Darcy is going to be longer term. The hope is that he would be available for round four or five, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”

READ MORE: Scotland head coach admits it could be his last Six Nations in charge, responds to France and Leicester Tigers rumours

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