Scotland: Gregor Townsend happy to retain John Barclay as captain for tour

John Barclay carries the ball for Scotland against Italy
John Barclay led Scotland in their Six Nations games against Wales, England and Italy

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend says he had no hesitation retaining John Barclay as captain for this summer's Tests with Italy, Australia and Fiji.

The Scarlets flanker, 30, took over during the Six Nations when Greig Laidlaw was injured against France.

With fit-again Laidlaw called into the British and Irish Lions squad, Barclay will retain the armband on tour.

"You could tell from the outside that John was doing an excellent job," said Townsend after naming a 34-man squad.

"The way he spoke with the referees, the confidence he had, speaking to the media and the enjoyment he had from captaining the team - the feedback I got from the coaches and players was all positive.

"I know John well. It has been four years since we worked together [Townsend's first season as Glasgow coach] but he contributed really well in meetings.

"He has a rugby intelligence which will really help us as coaches. He is playing very well and is one of our most experienced players so I am delighted to name him as captain."

As he prepares for a three-week training camp starting next Wednesday before heading off on tour, Townsend also addressed some of the other issues to arise from his first squad announcement as head coach.

The inclusion of prop WP Nel - injured since January

WP Nel receives treatment after suffering an injury playing for Edinburgh against Harlequins
Nel has not played for Scotland since last June and aggravated a neck injury in January

"He is delighted with where he is physically and how his neck has improved. He is working hard in training. The benefit we have as coaches is to work with the players for three weeks before we leave.

"For players like WP, Josh [Strauss], Magnus [Bradbury], Matt Scott, who has just had one game back, they get an opportunity in training to get their match fitness.

"We can replicate a lot from what we want to see from a player in our training, but whether they are ready to play 80 minutes or not, we will find out over the next few weeks."

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne given the third scrum-half spot:

Sam Hidalgo-Clyne makes a point playing for Edinburgh
Hidalgo-Clyne won the last of his nine caps in the 2016 Six Nations

"We had another look at it once we knew Greig [Laidlaw] was going to the Lions. The three nines at Edinburgh have all been playing well at different times this season, so Sean Kennedy and Nathan Fowles can be deemed unlucky.

"Sean hasn't played enough rugby over the last few weeks, and Scott Steele at London Irish has been going well so he was close to selection.

"But we believe in Sam. He has played at this level and thrived in that environment. There are things he has to work on but this is now an opportunity for him to go and grab."

The recall of Ruaridh Jackson:

"He has not played that much in the last few weeks, but I watched him during the Six Nations and he had a very good game for Harlequins against Bath.

"He's a player I know very well who can function well in the attack shape we want to run. He is listed as a back-three player and we are looking for cover at full-back, but we know he is a stand-off and can cover that position."

Peter Horne as fly-half cover, over Duncan Weir:

Peter Horne in action for Glasgow
Peter Horne missed several months through injury but returned to action for Glasgow n March

"We know Peter can play at 12 too. He has played really well and had a couple of cracking games for Glasgow in the last few weeks.

"He ran the attack side of the game well against Leinster. His goalkicking has been good. He has missed a fair bit of the season with injury but has played well since he came back.

"I wasn't really pleased with how Duncy played at the weekend because he helped Edinburgh beat Glasgow. But I was pleased with how he performed for himself because he has maybe not had the best of periods, and that was much more like Duncy. He misses out but it was a close decision."

A tour to Singapore, Sydney and Suva:

"We are going to three places which should be great fun to tour. I have never been to Singapore, I played club rugby in Sydney so I am looking forward to going back there.

Gregor Townsend jokes with the media after announcing his squad
Townsend is upbeat about the challenges of his first Tests as head coach

"I have been to Fiji three times and it is a brilliant experience. Working with this group of players, and working at international level is fantastic.

"Summer tours are about winning but also about learning and seeing new players come in. We've not rested anyone but we are missing three through Lions selection so it is about seeing whether those young players grab their opportunity.

"There's a good feeling around the squad. The players have obviously gained a lot of confidence in how they have played.

"We want to build on that optimism and make sure we work really hard as a coaching group and playing group to get our rewards."

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