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Townsend offers Gray hope of making Scotland's World Cup squad

Townsend offers Gray hope of making Scotland's World Cup squad
© Reuters
Toulouse forward Richie Gray is one of a number of omissions from Gregor Townsend's 42-man training squad.

Gregor Townsend has told Richie Gray there is still time for the giant lock to book his seat on Scotland's flight to this year's World Cup in Japan.

The 6ft 9ins Toulouse forward was the biggest name missing from the initial 42-man training squad named by Townsend on Tuesday.

But the head coach has left two spaces open – one for a second-rower, the other a wing – to allow hopefuls with games still remaining this season to play themselves into contention.

That lifeline will be music to the ears of Gray, who won the last of his 65 international caps against Italy last year before back and hip injuries saw him ruled out for the best part of a year.

The 29-year-old is now back to full fitness now and could reinforce his claim to appear at a third straight World Cup by helping Toulouse in their quest to claim the Top 14 crown in France.

Townsend said: "We're announcing the squad when some players are still due to play in huge games in their respective leagues and we want to make that decision having seen these players perform at that level.

"Toulouse are going really well in France, they could play four more games, and Richie has that opportunity, like the other guys in his position, to make sure he's the one we select at the end of the season.

"Experience does count for a lot, form counts for a lot, too. Playing at a level that we know he and other players can perform at – at Test level – is important. And that's what we are looking for from all these players who are still playing in the remaining games."

Others overlooked include Worcester's in-form stand-off Duncan Weir, Newcastle centre Alex Dunbar and his former international midfield partner Matt Scott.

Worcester Warriors' Duncan Weir has been overlooked for the Scots' 42-man World Cup training squad
Worcester Warriors' Duncan Weir has been overlooked for the Scots' 42-man World Cup training squad. (Mike Egerton/PA)

The uncapped trio Rory Hutchinson, Grant Stewart and Blade Thomson are included, as is former captain John Barclay, who hopes to make a third finals appearance of his own.

Duncan Taylor is another to get the nod despite the Saracens centre not playing a single minute of action since rupturing knee ligaments last September.

But Townsend is confident the 29-year-old could be ready if required to take on Ireland in their tournament opener on September 22.

He said: "Duncan trained with Saracens for the first time yesterday. He's aiming to be back in full contact training within the next two or three weeks.

"He's looking very good and ready to go. Obviously, he's not played rugby since pre-season last summer so we'll need to challenge him during our training block, give him opportunities to play a game because he could be a very important player for us.

"He's been in excellent form for Scotland and Sarries over the last few years and if he is back to that level that would be a real bonus.

"The players that have made this 42 are the players we believe can go to Japan."

Townsend has lined up a warm-weather camp in Portugal, as well as three short training breaks around Scotland, as part of his team's competition build-up.

They will also take on France and Georgia over four home-and-away Test clashes as they look to ensure their fitness reserves hold up amid the humid conditions set to face them in the Far East.

Townsend agreed his team, who are in the same pool as Russia, Samoa and the hosts, will have to be in their best shape if they are to reach the knock-out stages.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend admits his side will have to be fitter than ever ahead of the World Cup
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend, centre, feels his side will have to be fitter than ever ahead of the World Cup. (Andrew Milligan/PA)

"Absolutely," he said. "Our game is based on energy, on work rate, on continually putting pressure on the opposition through speed, and you need to be very fit to play that rugby.

"We've got to be fitter than any team we face in the World Cup, and that starts when we get the players in camp in a few weeks' time."

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Gregor Townsend in charge of Scotland on March 10, 2018
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