Gregor Townsend has backed Ali Price to bounce back strongly from his omission from the Scotland 23 for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with England.
The 29-year-old scrum-half has been a mainstay throughout the head coach’s five-and-a-half-year reign, winning 58 caps since his debut in 2016.
However, Price has struggled for form at Glasgow this season and has lost the number nine jersey to London Irish’s Ben White for this weekend’s Six Nations opener at Twickenham.
“Ali and I have worked together for a number of years and he has been very good for us over that period,” said Townsend.
“We chatted a week ago about how it was important he improved, whether that was just through training or getting game time with Glasgow at the weekend. He’s very aware of that too.
“He’s not been able to have as many games with Glasgow as he would have liked but he did play well at the weekend (away to Dragons). He’s making progress at getting back to his best.
“Non-selection can motivate you in two ways: it can get you more disappointed or it can give you a reaction to say ‘OK, I’m not close to my best and sometimes I won’t get to play’, but we’re already seeing that reaction from Ali and I’m sure he’ll be back to his best very soon.
“We backed him in the autumn when he played four Tests for us and he improved during those four Tests but this time he’s missed out. We believe we’ll see a reaction and get Ali back to his best for the rest of the campaign.”
Townsend’s decision to drop Price was aided by the impressive form of White.
“It shows the level of competition, not just in that position but lots of positions,” he said. “We have gone for players in really good form. Ben’s been really consistent ever since he came into our squad. He’s started the majority of games for London Irish this year.
“His kicking game is outstanding, he’s very competitive and he’s grown in confidence, so there’s someone in form who can play the game we want to play.”
Price is one of four members of the 2021 British and Irish Lions squad who have failed to make the starting XV this weekend, with Gloucester centre Chris Harris dropping to the bench and Glasgow prop Zander Fagerson and Edinburgh flanker Hamish Watson missing out on fitness grounds.
Fagerson has been sidelined by a hamstring injury since the start of December and management have decided not to include him this weekend and instead place their faith in 36-year-old prop WP Nel.
“Zander started training fully from the middle of last week but we feel this game has just come a few days too early for him,” said Townsend. “We’re delighted with his progress and he will be very much available for selection next week (at home to Wales).
“WP still playing well in his mid-30s is a bonus for us. He won his 50th cap in November and to see him play so well for Edinburgh against Saracens recently and play 80 minutes shows he’s possibly in the best shape he’s been in in years.
“With Zander starting most games over the last few years, WP hasn’t had the number three jersey on so it’s a great opportunity for him to show what he can do.”
Glasgow’s Huw Jones has got the nod over Harris at centre, where he will line up alongside Sione Tuipulotu.
“Huw has played well in some of the biggest fixtures we’ve played over the last few years but it’s really down to his form over the last three or four games (for Glasgow),” said Townsend.
“He’s in great physical shape, he’s confident around how he’s playing, he’s running really well in attack, but most importantly his defensive contributions have been excellent.
“There’s an element of cohesion there as well with Sione and him combining so well for Glasgow. We know we’ve got a brilliant player in Chris Harris on the bench but we want to back Huw in this game.”
Flanker Luke Crosbie – the least experienced player in the 23-man squad – will win his third cap in place of Edinburgh team-mate Watson, who returned to action at club level last weekend after being sidelined since November by concussion.
“Hamish played well last week but it’s a big step up to have missed two and a half months and go from that right into a Calcutta Cup game,” said Townsend. “Luke has been excellent this season and we feel he’s earned the opportunity to start.”