GREGOR TOWNSEND last night insisted that he did not know enough to comment on the breach of Covid restrictions by 12 Barbarians players – including Scotland winger Sean Maitland according to news reports – which led to Sunday’s game against England being cancelled.
Maitland had been released to the Barbarians for the Twickenham clash but was expected to return to the Scotland squad on Monday to begin preparation for Saturday’s long-awaited final Six Nations match against Wales in Llanelli.
Speaking after Scotland’s comprehensive 48-7 victory over Georgia last night, Townsend refused to be drawn on whether that is still the case.
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“We won’t select a squad until the rest of the weekend is over,” he said. “We have players playing at other clubs on Saturday and Sunday so no decision has been made.
“I only heard about the Barbarians [situation] just before we boarded the bus to the game so I’ve not had time to digest it but it is obviously a disappointment that a game was called off due to the actions of players. That’s all I can say as I don’t know much about it.”
Maitland plays in a position [back-three] where Scotland now has some depth, with Duhan van der Merwe making a try-scoring debut against Georgia, while Darcy Graham scored twice and Blair Kinghorn also crossed the line. Stuart Hogg is, of course, expected to lead the side from full-back next week, assuming he gets through today’s English Premiership Final unscathed. Huw Jones, who is playing for Glasgow Warriors against Ospreys today, could also come into the mix.
Focussing instead on his team’s performance against Georgia, Townsend stated that the 80-minutes had been good preparation for next weekend’s game against Wales.
“It was certainly a strong hit-out for our forwards,” he observed. “The ball was slippy and there were errors from both teams and we didn’t get a lot of fluency in our attack, but the forward performance was excellent. I was really pleased with the scrum, maul attack and maul defence.
“The players know they have been in a tough, physical game which is excellent preparation for the step-up next week.”
He also had praise for Finn Russell, who came off the bench with just under half an hour to go for his 50th cap, and his first since making peace with Townsend following an acrimonious stand-off developed during the Six Nations.
“He played well and I thought his passing was outstanding,” said the coach. “He had two or three really quick passes to give us width, and we were unlucky with one as we got held up over the line, but he opened up space in the defence and had a couple of good kicks, too.
“He had a really positive impact on the game, as he has in training this week.
“When the ball is wet, it doesn’t change the way he passes – he’s such a highly skilled player and he was seeing space,” he added. “It was good to see that we upped our game in the last 20 to 15 minutes. We did that at the end of the first half [too], which shows our fitness levels are high.”
Meanwhile, hooker Fraser Brown – who marked the occasion of captaining the national side for the first time with two tries – said he was quietly satisfied with a job well done.
“It was good preparation because from a set-piece point of view we functioned really well, and our defence was reasonably comfortable which allowed us to get into shape from an attack point of view. The pleasing thing is that there is still lots of things we can learn from and improve,” he explained.
“I don’t think I can take credit for the tries,” he added. “There was another eight or nine guys – including some backs – who came in to help out there. It was a really proud moment for me personally, more so because of the group of guys we’ve got and how they have bought into what we are trying to do during the last couple of weeks, so leading that team out was pretty special.”