After Jack Dempsey converted from Australia to Scotland earlier this season, the Scots have again taken advantage of world rugby’s new eligibility ruling that allows players to switch international allegiance following a three-year cooling off period between caps, if they have a credible link with the country they are switching to.
McConnochie, the 31-year-old Bath wing, made two appearances for England – including one at the 2019 World Cup – but after failing to establish himself in the squad, he now has a second chance at international level with the nation of his father’s birth.
If he plays, he will become the first player to represent both England and Scotland in the modern era.
“When the rule changed, we were quickly aware of who that would apply to,” said Townsend, explaining the process behind McConnochie’s surprise call-up.
“There were a couple who called us we weren’t aware of but Ruaridh was one we’ve known about his Scottish qualification for a while.
“In October I spent a day in Bath and caught up with Ruaridh and he told me it was his ambition to get into a Scotland squad at some stage.
“He knew how tough that would be given the quality of player in our squad, but it was great that I was able to phone him last night and tell him that he had fulfilled that ambition.
“He played for England at the last World Cup which shows the quality of player he is. He has been unlucky with injuries over the last two or three years but it’s been great that he has played over the last month.
“He has an opportunity now that he’s earned but also an opportunity that’s opened up because of Darcy Graham’s injury.”
Townsend has included three other uncapped players in his 40-man squad. Munster stand-off Ben Healy, who will join Edinburgh in the summer, is Scottish qualified through his mother and will provide back-up at number 10.
“He brings recent form and experience playing at a high level and we feel he’s got Test match ability,” said Townsend. “His kicking game is strong, he’s confident and he leads the attack well when he gets the opportunity to do that at Munster.
“It’s really the last two weeks prior to the weekend’s game (that helped him get in). It’s timely that his form has come at a time when he is committing to us.
“With Adam Hastings being injured, he now gets a chance to train with us and for us to see him.”
Everyone in our squad is available as we speak for England
Glasgow centre Stafford McDowall and Leicester second-row Cameron Henderson are the other two included who are yet to feature for the national team.
Hamish Watson and Zander Fagerson are included despite being sidelined by injury in recent months, but Darcy Graham, Scott Cummings, Rory Darge and Hastings – who have also been battling fitness issues – have not made the squad.
Townsend explained that he has only picked players in his initial selection who have a realistic chance of being involved in the opener away to England on 4 February, although others could be called in at a later date.
“Everyone in our squad is available as we speak for England,” said the head coach. “Rory and Scott were going to be touch and go for England so we felt it was not right to put them in the squad if they’re not in line for that game.
“They may be fit around that game or the Wales game but we don’t think coming straight back into a Test match after being out so long is the right thing by them.
“Zander’s different because he’s not been out as long and he’s been training well over the last couple of weeks.
“Darcy is going to be longer term. The hope is that he would be available for round four or five, but we’ll just have to wait and see.”