Scotland coach defends 'foreign legion' after another South African cracks Test nod

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Jaco van der Walt in action for Edinburgh in the PRO14.
Jaco van der Walt in action for Edinburgh in the PRO14.
Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

Head coach Gregor Townsend said on Thursday he has no qualms over Jaco van der Walt becoming Scotland's latest South Africa-born international.

The 26-year-old Edinburgh flyhalf is set to make his Test debut in Saturday's Autumn Nations third place play-off away to Ireland.

Van der Walt completed a three-year residency eligibility qualification on 16 November, but spent the two weeks leading up to the France defeat in quarantine after returning to South Africa to get married.

Van der Walt is one of four South Africa-born players in Townsend's matchday 23 for the trip to Dublin, along with wing Duhan van der Merwe and replacement forwards Oli Kebble and WP Nel. Replacement centre Huw Jones was born in Scotland but is well-known in South African rugby circles having played for the UCT Ikey Tigers and the Stormers.

But Townsend said his squad was also proof that homegrown talent could still make it into the Test arena.

"Jaco's been playing for Edinburgh the last three years and his play and performances have earned him the right to be considered," Townsend told reporters after naming his team to play Ireland.

"We see him as a very good defender, someone that carries it well and has really good basics that can bring the best out of the players around him."

New contract

And while Townsend noted Van der Walt had a Scottish connection in a great-grandfather from Aberdeen, he also said: "But that's not necessary, we know the rules that other countries as well as ourselves have used, it's up to those players that get capped through those residency mechanisms - they make a huge effort to play for that country."

Scotland have just two professional teams in Edinburgh and Glasgow Warriors, hugely depleting their playing base.

But Townsend said the inclusion in Saturday's team of Hogg, D'Arcy Graham and Rory Sutherland - all of whom hail from Hawick in Scottish rugby's heartland Borders region - was " a real pleasing aspect" of his latest XV.

"I believe we're producing players better than we've ever done before," he said.

"And as you know we don't have anything like the player numbers of any nation in the Top 15 in the world - Italy and all those countries have many more players than us.

"So we have to work very hard at getting players to the highest level. Our depth's at the best-ever level."

Meanwhile Townsend, whose contract expires next year, indicated he wanted to lead the side at the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France.

Asked if he might sign a new deal in the near future, Townsend replied: "That would be great if it happens.

"I feel that we've got the ingredients, the expertise from a coaching, support staff, we've got the players and the togetherness to go and achieve things over the next couple of years.

"We've been in discussions for a few weeks now. So I'm hopeful that something could be agreed or announced over the next few weeks."

As for the World Cup, he added: "We'll see. But 2023 would be great, because obviously it gives everybody a target for that World Cup. It would be great if we do stick together until then."

Teams:

Ireland

15 Jacob Stockdale, 14 Hugo Keenan, 13 Bundee Aki, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Keith Earls, 10 Johnny Sexton (captain), 9 Conor Murray, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Peter O'Mahony, 6 CJ Stander, 5 James Ryan, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Andrew Porter, 2 Rob Herring, 1 Cian Healy.

Substitutes: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Eric O’Sullivan, 18 John Ryan, 19 Quinn Roux, 20 Josh van der Flier, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ross Byrne, 23 Chris Farrell

Scotland  

15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Duncan Taylor, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Jaco van der Walt, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Jamie Ritchie, 6 Blade Thomson; 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland

Substitutes: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Huw Jones, 23 Sean Maitland

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