It is always a bold move to place the burdens of leadership on a determined individualist but the Scottish selectors believe Townsend is no longer the free-thinking maverick of old.
The versatile Northampton back takes the reins from Rob Wainwright, who led the Scots to the brink of a Grand Slam last season but who is now struggling with a groin condition. Scott Hastings, the most-capped Scottish player, also came under consideration but was finally overlooked, although he is named in a 21-strong squad.
Townsend was last season's vice-captain and led a Scottish XV against the Barbarians in the Dunblane Memorial match at the start of the season.
Gary Armstrong, his half-back partner during last summer's tour of New Zealand said he "puts the spark into the team and leads by example."
One awkward question facing the selectors is where to play the 23-year- old. Townsend set the 1995 Five Nations' Championship alight with some virtuoso performances as outside-half, but he is playing regularly in the centre at club level and will have to do so against the Wallabies if the selectors insist on picking Craig Chalmers.
Yesterday the Scottish camp indicated that they might wait until the morning of the game before naming their line-up and would also consider the use of tactical substitutions under a change of rules ratified by the International Board last month.
SCOTLAND SQUAD (v Australia, Murrayfield, 9 November 9): Backs: G Armstrong (Newcastle), C Chalmers (Melrose), R Eriksson (London Scottish), S Hastings (Watsonians), K Logan (Stirling County), B Redpath (Melrose), R Shepherd (Melrose), A Stanger (Hawick), D Stark (Melrose), G Townsend (Northampton, capt). Forwards: D Cronin (Wasps), G Ellis (Currie), D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), S Murray (Bedford), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester), T Smith (Watsonians), B Stewart (Edinburgh Academicals), E Wallace (GHK), G Weir (Newcastle).Reuse content