Georgia v Scotland: World Cup squad places still up for grabs, says Townsend

Head coach praises contribution of Chris Harris to Scotland's hard-fought victory over France, which got their World Cup prep back on track

Scotland face a big challenge in Georgia next Saturday. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson***

GREGOR TOWNSEND says that some players will be fighting for a place in Scotland’s World Cup squad when they take to the field against Georgia in Tbilisi next Saturday. The lucky 31 will be named on the Tuesday after the game, and the head coach says that nothing is set in stone yet in terms of who will go to Japan and who will be left at home.

In fact, even after the squad is named, there is a very good chance that a number of those who missed out will be called up as injury cover.

“We’ve still got one more game (before naming the squad) and we’ve given ourselves this opportunity to go to Georgia with a strong team,” said Townsend, speaking after Saturday’s gritty victory over France. “There might be a couple of decisions we have to leave until after that game.”

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Back-five forward Sam Skinner picked up a hamstring injury during Saturday’s match and now appears to be a serious doubt for Japan, while winger Tommy Seymour and No 8 Blade Thomson were concussed and the nature of the Graduated Return To Play protocol means they face an anxious wait.

They could be back in six days, but it could be a matter of months. For example, Thomson was concussed last November, and ended up missing all of Scotland’s Autumn Test matches and the Six Nations campaign.  Townsend will be loathe to give up a precious place in the squad to a player who could spend the duration of the tournament waiting to be cleared to play.

“We now have to factor in these injuries, whether they affect our squad selection, and the reality is we will get injuries after the squad is announced,” said Townsend. “We play Georgia [again] here in two weeks’ time. We play four Test matches in hot conditions out in Japan. So, even if players don’t make that 31, I’m sure a few of them will make it out to Japan.”

Given the brutality of modern professional rugby, a trip to Georgia to play a famously physical side who will be licking their lips in anticipation of taking on a Tier One nation on their own patch for the first time ever, in sweltering heat and in front 53,000 frenzied home fans, might be regarded as foolhardy this close to a World Cup.

Balancing act

It is going to be a three-way balancing act for Townsend, between fielding as strong a team as possible, getting people who need game time a decent run-out and protecting the most valuable members of the squad.

“If we have any injury doubts, that’s obviously something we take into consideration, particularly with the travel and the quick turnaround,” said Townsend. “We need to have a team out there that is fully fit. So, there are a couple of players, who weren’t involved today, who we will have to be sure of by Monday if they’re going to be involved in Georgia. But we’re going there with a strong team.”

That seems to suggest that Sam Johnson, Magnus Bradbury and Jonny Gray – who have been injured these last two weeks – could be in the frame to play.

“With the first two games, we’ve played 30 different players. Blair Kinghorn has actually ended up playing a fair bit of rugby when he’s been on the bench on a few occasions,” continued Townsend. “But that’s what we set out to do. We picked two balanced teams, didn’t play as well in the first game as we could have, played better in the second game. Now we’re going to give players opportunities. Players who deserve them – or who are coming back from injury and we want to see them again.

“Georgia are a really good team. We’re obviously going to play them here as well and that will be a difficult enough match.Their age-group system is really good now, their Under-20s team has shown that, and they’re preparing for a World Cup.

“So, playing them in Tbilisi, in the national stadium, is one of the biggest challenges we’ll get. And we can’t wait to see our players get stuck in.”

Harris gets his reward

One player who did his chances of making the plane to Japan no harm on Saturday was Chris Harris. The centre’s relentless and aggressive defence was crucial to stopping France building the sort of momentum they enjoyed the week before, and he also showed up well in attack – with his excellently taken match-winning try the icing on the cake.

“It’s great just to see someone get out there and get a reward for the hard work he’s put in,” said Townsend of the 28-year-old, who was making only his third start for Scotland. “Chris is an outstanding defensive player and he’s worked really hard to improve his attacking game.

“His passing, his re-setting and his decisions have been very good. He gives a hundred per cent every time he plays. So, to see him getting the reward of a try at Murrayfield and the crowd erupting, a crucial try for us, there can be no better feeling.

The player himself, however, is not counting his chickens before they hatch. “I know what I have to do to get a ticket to Japan and that one performance may not be enough,” he said after the game.

“It would mean everything to get on that plane. This has been my goal and my dream. If I don’t make it, I will be absolutely gutted and that’s what’s been driving me. You can’t look beyond the game you are playing. I just have to keep my head down.

“The coaches are giving nothing away. I’m not aware if the final squad has been selected or, indeed, the positions they are unsure of. They are not going to tell us that because they want to ensure there’s that added edge to our play. Everyone is still fighting.

“There is pressure and you have to deal with it in your own way, not everyone can go to the World Cup,” Harris added. “I feel like I’ve put myself in a good position. I have been training well and working hard.”

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About David Barnes 3908 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

1 Comment

  1. Harris’ attack seems to be improving faster than Jones’ defence – be interesting to see whether Jones gets another go in Tbilisi. At 12, Pete Horne showed real determination after the early mistake, and made a great carry for Maitland’s try. I’d still back him to make the final 31 over Hutchinson at this stage.

    Thomson looks like a hard working and intelligent defender – really hope the head knock is not serious and we get to see more of him in a Scotland shirt.

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