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Gary Graham’s England call-up unfortunate timing – Gregor Townsend

Former Carlisle player Graham did not speak to Townsend before accepting the invitation from England.

Gregor Townsend has described Gary Graham’s England call-up as “unfortunate timing” but refused to admit defeat over the former Scotland Under-20 international.

The Newcastle flanker was named in Eddie Jones’ 34-man training squad just before the end of 2017 – only four games into his Falcons career after stepping up a division from the Jersey Reds.

The 27-year-old Stirling-born forward formerly played for Townsend’s home town team of Gala and is the son of his former Scotland team-mate George Graham, and he was very much on his radar ahead of the NatWest 6 Nations.

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George Graham won 25 caps for Scotland

“It’s unfortunate timing for us,” said the Scotland head coach, who named his 40-man squad on Tuesday ahead of a camp next week. “England had a squad in the first week of January and they put Gary in it.

“Gary is a Scotland Under-20s player and someone we have been impressed with since he got into the Newcastle team, but given he has been picked in that England squad I can understand why he wants to see where that leads.

“We will wait and see. If England play him during the Six Nations he will obviously be committed to England, but it seems England are very keen on him.”

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Gregor Townsend looks to have lost out to England over Gary Graham's allegiance

The former Carlisle player did not speak to Townsend before accepting the invitation.

“There would be no reason to speak to me,” former Glasgow head coach Townsend said. “I had never involved him in a camp and obviously if England invite you to train, he is available now for England on residency, I believe, so it’s a great opportunity for him. It’s just a pity we didn’t have a camp earlier in January.

“I watched three of his games for Jersey before the summer tour and he played pretty well for Jersey. They were close to the bottom of the Championship.

“I remember chatting to his dad to say we were looking forward to seeing him play for Newcastle, if he can break into that team then that’s a positive. He had certain traits that could allow him to play at a high level: a very good worker and tackler. But it’s been a nice surprise how well he has taken to professional rugby.

“He only got his first start for Newcastle around November and I remember watching him and thinking he was doing pretty well, and each game he has got better. Look, it’s credit to Gary that he’s in the England squad.”

Townsend has Graham’s Carlisle-born Falcons team-mate Chris Harris and former England Under-20 international Nathan Fowles in his squad but rejected suggestions Jones’ move was “tit-for-tat”.

He added: “It’s unusual that a country like England, with all their resources and players, that players who have played for Scotland Under-20s are going into their squad but it’s the reality and probably in some corners it could be seen as a positive that our players are attracting interest from outside Scotland.”

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