Gregor Townsend: Scotland boss hopes for more Lions call-ups

Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend is preparing for his first matches as Scotland head coach

Head coach Gregor Townsend says his Scotland players are well placed to earn call-ups to the British and Irish Lions touring party.

Only two Scots - backs Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour - made the initial squad for the trip to New Zealand.

Lions boss Warren Gatland has since drafted in Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw when England scrum-half Ben Youngs withdrew from the tour.

"I would hope we'd have call-ups for the Lions," Townsend said.

The former Glasgow Warriors head coach is preparing to embark on his first tour in charge of the national team, taking on Italy in Singapore, Australia in Sydney, then Fiji in Suva on consecutive Saturdays in June.

"I think it's unlikely there's not going to be any injuries on the Lions tour," Townsend added. "I hope there aren't any [injuries], but that's what's happened in previous tours.

"Given the fact that a number of our players must have been close to selection - our players are playing Test matches around the same time - I would imagine or hope we can have a couple more."

'They're all putting their hands up for selection'

Townsend, who guided Glasgow to their first ever major honour in 2015 by clinching the Pro12 title, denies the prospect of a Lions call-up will provide his players with added motivation on tour.

"Obviously there would have been disappointment, but that would have been six weeks ago when the [Lions] squad was announced," said Townsend, who was part of the 1997 Lions tour.

"They've worked hard, they can't wait to play, they're all putting their hands up for selection for the Italy game. And as a tour, I think they're all excited about the prospect of going to three different places with three different challenges."

Scotland have been drawn against Six Nations rivals Ireland and tournament hosts Japan in pool A of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Townsend says their June fixtures will provide ideal preparation for the global showpiece.

"The different styles of opposition will mean we have to play different rugby, or react to different types of rugby from the opposition," he said.

Scotland and Ireland players
Scotland beat Ireland in this year's Six Nations

"So that's going to improve the players, and it's also going to have a lot of relevance to the World Cup. On paper, we could be playing a European team and a Polynesian team in addition to Japan and Ireland.

"On this tour, playing Italy, who have a big set-piece focus, Australia, who have a very fluid attacking game, then a Polynesian team like Fiji, which could be a number of things, but will certainly be counter-attacking rugby and running rugby, it'll be a real test for the whole squad, especially the forwards early on.

"We've taken a squad of 34 in the knowledge that there might be call-ups for the Lions, there might be injuries, but there's no guarantee everyone in that 34 is going to play Test match rugby. Players have to work hard to get that opportunity and then go out and grab it."

Townsend also revealed back-row David Denton, who has agreed a move from Bath to Worcester Warriors, narrowly missed out on selection for the tour.

Denton, 27, has 35 Scotland caps, but endured an injury-plagued 2016-17 campaign.

"He came back at the end of the season and played four or five games," Townsend said. "Each game you can tell he's getting better, closer to match fitness.

"Then he picked up another injury that kept him out of the last three or four games of the season. He was very close to selection.

"So first of all, it's great that he's back from injury. And if he can have a good pre-season and start strongly at Worcester that'll get him back in the mix, and if he's playing regular rugby that's a bonus for us."

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