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Scotland boss Gregor Townsend already looking ahead to next year’s World Cup

The Dark Blues play four Tests this autumn.

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is already planning for next year’s World Cup (Ian Rutherford/PA)

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is already planning for next year’s World Cup (Ian Rutherford/PA)

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is already planning for next year’s World Cup (Ian Rutherford/PA)

Gregor Townsend has told his Scotland squad their audition for the 2019 World Cup starts next month.

The Dark Blues coach has named a bumper 40-man group for the November showdowns with Wales, Fiji, South Africa and Argentina as he looks to finalise his plans ahead of the tournament in Japan.

Among that number are the uncapped trio of Sam Skinner, Sam Johnson and Blade Thomson.

But Townsend wants every member of his squad to know that they must start impressing now if they want to be considered for a place on the plane to the Far East.

“I believe everyone in this squad can play in the World Cup,” he said. “There are a few outside the squad as well.

“But the World Cup had to be in our minds. We’re entering a period where there is less than 12 months to our first game. We have some big challenges during that year and this selection does have Japan in mind.

“Obviously if you play well in this period and then the Six Nations then there is a very good chance you’ll be going to Japan.”

Townsend will be denied the talents of Stuart Hogg, John Barclay, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Duncan Taylor and Tim Swinson through injury.

The World Cup had to be in our minds. We're entering a period where there is less than 12 months to our first gameGregor Townsend

But the 45-year-old is excited by the potential of his three newcomers.

Exeter second-rower Skinner – an ex-England youth international – and Scarlets’ former New Zealand Under-20s number eight Thomson qualify for the national team through family connections.

Australian-born Johnson is also eligible for Scotland on residency grounds, having been signed by Townsend for Glasgow in 2015.

“They are excellent players and that is first and foremost why we brought them in,” he said. “We believe the rugby they’re playing now and that we believe they can bring to international level will help us be a better team.

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Glasgow centre Sam Johnson qualifies for Scotland on residancy grounds (David Davies/PA)

Glasgow centre Sam Johnson qualifies for Scotland on residancy grounds (David Davies/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

Glasgow centre Sam Johnson qualifies for Scotland on residancy grounds (David Davies/PA)

“Blade is probably the most established from the three, given he’s a bit older and has played Super Rugby for the last three seasons.

“We’ve known about him and his Scottish qualification for a few years. I was even interested in signing him for Glasgow before he missed a couple of years through injury.

“So it’s great to see him fit and playing number eight for the Hurricanes and playing very well for the Scarlets.

“Sam Johnson is a player I know well having signed him for Glasgow three-and-a-half-years ago. Each season he’s got better and better and won the players’ player of the season award last year, so that shows you how well he’s performed.

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Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has been ruled out with an ankle injury (Donall Farmer/PA)

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has been ruled out with an ankle injury (Donall Farmer/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg has been ruled out with an ankle injury (Donall Farmer/PA)

“Sam Skinner, who I’m sure everyone knew about and you’ve not been frantically googling him, is a big bonus for us as he’s en excellent player with a big future ahead of him.

“I spoke to him prior to the summer tour. We’d known about his Scottish qualification for a number of years as he was involved in the Exiles programme as a youngster.

“But it was a message from someone who was speaking to his dad to say that nothing would make his dad more proud than Sam playing for Scotland (that alerted us). So we’ve been tracking him really closely. We’d have liked to have taken him on tour but Sam didn’t think it was the right time.

“He wanted to start the season and earn his place and he’s done that. He’s an excellent player. Line-out leader for one of the best packs in Europe, his decision-making is excellent and really good running lines so we’re delighted he’s committed to Scotland.”

PA