Gregor Townsend has challenged both Blair Kinghorn and Adam Hastings to prove they can be Scotland’s first-choice number 10 for 2023.
The pair are vying for the fly-half berth after the contentious decision to leave previous incumbent Finn Russell out of the squad for the Autumn Series.
Edinburgh man Kinghorn played at 10 in the summer tour of South America and in last weekend’s narrow defeat by Australia, when he scored a magnificent solo try and missed a last-gasp penalty that would have won the match.
Gloucester playmaker Hastings has been given the nod for this Saturday’s Test at home to Fiji, with Kinghorn on the bench in one of six changes to the XV that started against the Wallabies.
Townsend admits these matches are a chance for both players to “stake a claim” for the role ahead of next year’s Six Nations and World Cup.
“Blair’s played for us in that position in the last five games but this is a chance for Adam to show how well he can fit in at Test level again,” said the head coach.
“We are obviously massive believers in Blair. Adam played for us a couple of seasons ago and he’s got back to that form this season, and even beyond that form – his game management has been excellent this year.”
Townsend – who appears of no mind to give Russell a recall – admits Hastings and Kinghorn bring different qualities to the team.
“Adam is a game manager and also has the ability to run,” he said. “I’d say Blair is a runner-passer and is learning more on the game-management side. Adam is playing regularly and playing very well for a team that’s going really great in the English Premiership.
“The way his team have played this year aligns a lot in attack with what we want to do with our team. Blair’s doing that with Edinburgh too. That could be tactical things, how they use the forwards, how they use the width of the field.
“For both of them it is very easy for them to get into our game plan and Adam has shown he’s earned this opportunity. Blair off the bench is also a positive thing – his running game, his pace, his passing, whether that’s at 10 or in a different position, can really cause damage in the last 20 minutes.”
Stuart Hogg will start his first Scotland match since losing the captaincy to Jamie Ritchie, while Cam Redpath, Chris Harris, George Turner and Richie Gray are the other players in this weekend’s XV that did not feature from the start against Australia last weekend.
Asked if he had selected the strongest team available to him for the Fiji match, Townsend said: “We believe so. You never know because there are players very close in different positions but we believe this is as strong a team as we could put out.”
The match represents a first Scotland start for 33-year-old Glasgow lock Gray in more than five years.
“He has been excellent this year,” said Townsend. “And it just shows you that you can get better with age, both physically and as a rugby player.
“He set the quickest time he’s ever run this week in training. He’s played very well for Glasgow, two of the games were up there with his best ever performances, I believe.
“And he brings his presence at lineout in attack and defence and he will worry opposition when they go to the lineout. And he’s really improved as a defender too so it’s brilliant to have him back in the squad.”
Dave Cherry – who started against Australia – has dropped out of the squad through injury. His place in the Autumn Series group has been taken by Fraser Brown, although the Glasgow man has not been named in the 23 for the Fiji match.