Gregor Townsend undecided on Scotland captain amid Jamie Ritchie fitness battle

Gregor Townsend undecided on Scotland captain amid Jamie Ritchie fitness battle

Townsend announced his 39-man squad for the tournament on Tuesday with nobody listed as skipper.

Gregor Townsend revealed he is still to decide whether Jamie Ritchie will captain Scotland for the upcoming Six Nations as the Edinburgh back-rower bids to prove his form and fitness ahead of the tournament.

The 27-year-old flanker has led the national team since succeeding Stuart Hogg in the role for the 2022 summer tour of South America but has been hindered by injury since the World Cup last autumn.

It was notable when Townsend announced his 39-man squad for the tournament on Tuesday afternoon that nobody was listed as skipper.

Ritchie was sidelined for a month after the World Cup due to a shoulder injury sustained in the first half of the pool-stage defeat by Ireland in October. After returning in mid-November for six Edinburgh matches, the back-rower suffered a jaw injury in the win over Glasgow on 30 December.

Ritchie is due to return in Friday’s Challenge Cup match away to Scarlets but, with intense competition among the Scotland flankers, Townsend indicated that he has a fight on his hands to ensure he starts the opening match away to Wales with the armband.

“Jamie’s got a challenge this week,” said Townsend. “I believe he’s going to be fit and available to play which is a bonus and he’s just got to put his best foot forward in the game on Friday night.

“He’ll be one of the favourites to be captain, but we’ll leave that decision until after the weekend.”

Glasgow back-rower Rory Darge has been named in the squad despite a knee injury that could keep him out until the end of February.

“Friday will be the three-week mark since his injury and a series of tests will be conducted then so we’ll have a clearer picture of whether he has a chance for the opening couple of weekends, and let’s hope that’s the case,” said Townsend.

Former England prop Alec Hepburn is one of four uncapped players in the squad. The 29-year Exeter loosehead, who won six caps under Eddie Jones in 2018, has completed his three-year stand-down period to switch allegiance to the nation of his father’s birth.

“He’s a very good player,” said Townsend. “I spoke to him about 18 months ago and had a couple of really good conversations with him but at that time he wasn’t prepared to commit to Scotland.

“But he’s always spoken about playing for Scotland and things have opened up for him now with the new law change.

“I’ve been really impressed with him the last two weeks. I was down at Exeter’s game against Northampton and he played really well off the bench and then he played very well at the weekend there against Glasgow.”

Leicester tighthead Will Hurd, Sale winger Arron Reed – both 24 – and 22-year-old Edinburgh back Harry Paterson are the other three new additions to Townsend’s squad.

Northampton back Rory Hutchinson, Edinburgh lock Glen Young, Gloucester stand-off Adam Hastings, Bath back-rower Josh Bayliss, and Glasgow backs Kyle Rowe and Stafford McDowall are among those who have been added who did not go to the World Cup.

The most notable absentees from the squad are experienced trio Hamish Watson, Rory Sutherland and Chris Harris – all of whom played for the British and Irish Lions in South Africa in 2021 – as well as hooker Dave Cherry, who departed the World Cup squad in September after falling down stairs at the team hotel in Nice on a day off.

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