RWC23: France v Scotland: 10 takeaways from Gregor Townsend’s team announcement

Head coach in positive frame of mind ahead of big test against a strong Les Bleus outfit

Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell after last weekend's win for Scotland against France at Murrayfield. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell after last weekend's win for Scotland against France at Murrayfield. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

1. Ben White could be back from his ankle in time to face Georgia

Gregor Townsend said:

“I believe he’ll have a good chance of playing against Georgia if he comes back like we think he would. There was a lot of precaution with it being the area he injured at the end of the season, but initial scans showed that there wasn’t too much damage there, and we’ll have a meeting on Monday just to test it out. But we think that he’ll be okay to be announced in that squad if he makes selection, and from that Monday onwards he’ll have 10, 11 days before we play Georgia. And that’s still another two weeks before we play South Africa.

“We don’t see it being a longer injury than that. I think if it was, then really that would keep him out most of the pool stages. We don’t believe it will be as severe as that.”

2. There are no other injury concerns

“Everyone’s okay apart from Ben White. Everyone trained fully yesterday. We understand if any player is disappointed if they only got one game out of the three. The maximum starts anyone has had is two although some have been involved in all three off the bench. We’ve focused on aiming to get a real strong team out of the last two weeks and that might mean some players have missed out on the chance to play a second time. But everyone is fit and we had 36 at training.”

3. George Horne is an impact man

“Ali [Price] gets the opportunity to start again, like he did against Italy. And George Horne too did really well off the bench last week. So we’ve got two very experienced scrum-halves – both have been around our group for a while now.

“Ali has obviously had a lot of caps with Finn, so he gets to build on that relationship from the start – it’s been a while since he’s done that. And George gets to bring his energy – he did really well last week, and if it becomes one of those games that opens up, George is ideally placed to make the most of that space.”


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4. Four scrum-halves in the squad – Springbok style – is not a completely ridiculous idea

“Well, we’ll discuss it. It hasn’t been really high on the discussions so far. To be honest, there was one stage where Jamie Dobie with his ability to cover wing was considered, especially if we’d picked up more injuries in the back three. He’s a very good winger at club level and has trained at wing here, so if that scenario did arrive, that we didn’t feel we had the wingers available to us, then Jamie could come into the equation as a wing.

“But I believe South Africa are putting those 9s in there because some of them can cover 10 and some can cover in other positions. Whereas our three 9s apart from really Jamie would all be covering 9. So unless something changes drastically, I think we’ll look at taking three 9s for this World Cup.”

5. Slow starts are not a big concern, staying focussed for 80 minutes is

“We started well [last week]. We had some really good play in the beginning of the game, we got to 3-0 up. It was probably the 10 minutes after that when France had possession, we weren’t as physical as we had to be. And they then got on the front foot. One of our tries was conceded without much phase play – it was a kick chase and they scored at the other end.

“So in terms of the points on the scoreboard, yeah we were disappointed with that first half and what led to the deficit. But our energy was there at the beginning.

“We know we have to put points on the scoreboard in first halves, and to be leading at half-time gives you more chance of winning. But the pleasing thing was obviously how we played in that second half, with a man down in particular, and how we were able to still create space in our attack, create try-scoring opportunities … We could have taken one more, and I felt we had another two chances which could have led to try-scoring opportunities again.

“And also how we defended after all that energy that was exerted, still with the one man down, [was pleasing]. So the goal is always to bring your best performance and do that for 80 minutes and this week will be even more challenging, because we’re sure France will come with real power in their game. We’ve got to be much better than we were last week in passages in that first half.”

6. Defence around the ruck will be key

“The way that France play they like to target you around the ruck area. That’s how they can get Dupont on the ball and he can get a little offload or do a pick-and-go on his own. He’s maybe their most dangerous attacker and it brings their most powerful forwards into the game. One other thing is it narrows out the defence as you’re dealing with that and then they can go wide. So, that’s going to be a key area for how we defend.

“Any transitions, kicks that turn into counter attacking opportunities for France, turnovers that turn into ball for France to exploit – those are also very important that we keep connected in defence and work hard and don’t allow them to score over one or two phases as they have the ability to do that. But we believe that the more our defence is in place, the stronger we get. Keeping them subdued and driving them back for those one, two, three phases gives us opportunities to be in play and stop their momentum.”

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7. Kyle Steyn is an unsung hero

“He’s very consistent in how he trains and plays. This year he showed that he can perform very well at Test level on a consistent basis when he had those opportunities to start. Physically he’s in great shape. He did have those 18 months with hamstring trouble but he’s well over that and is producing great speeds in training and repeat efforts too.

“He’s someone who always looks to get better and thrives on feedback and going out on the training field and working on his game.

“He’s a leader, he’s captain at his club and well respected. He’s a good connector to have around the group. On top of that he brings his own strengths which are physical ones, the ability to win the ball in the air and be strong in contact on both sides of the ball.

“He had a very good Six Nations for us. We’re very fortunate to have Duhan [van der Merwe] and Darcy [Graham] in really good form just now but given Darcy just played those two games back to back we feel it’s a good time to give him a rest and also bring Kyle back into the team.”

8. Jamie Ritchie is in tip-top condition

“He’s probably in the best shape I’ve seen him over the past few years. He’s obviously had a couple of injuries that have curtailed his progress but he’s built on what he did in the Six Nations and he’s fitter, stronger. We’ve had a few lively sessions before we’ve played these two Test matches and we had a full hit-out on two occasions, and Jamie stood out really well – really physical, defensively and getting more touches on the ball in the way we are using our flankers. He seems ready to play. He trained fully this week in hot conditions and looked good and I can’t wait to see him play.

9. Josh Bayliss has momentum on his side

“[Our six-two split on the bench] is primarily to look at other players in our squad, to give them opportunities, and also to refresh the forward pack at some stage in the second half. A lot of the forwards are doubling up this week – two Test matches against France – and we believe this game will have a lot of movement but also a lot of collisions, so we can have a whole new front-five coming on at one stage – although one of those second rows can cover back row.

“To have Josh Bayliss coming off the bench, who added real pace in the game against Italy, we believe will help us win this weekend. That’s all we’re looking at.”

10. Justice was served with Zander Fagerson

“I was part of the group that presented Zander’s case, alongside Zander and our team manager, and I thought the panel understood Zander’s actions were just mistimed, rather than any intent to hurt. With Zander pleading guilty to the charge we got a sanction that could have been worse but fitted what we believe was just an unlucky incident rather an act of intentional foul play.

“It’s a huge boost for Zander that he can now focus on being available for that first game against South Africa. Any longer ban would have taken out of that game or potentially taken him out of the World Cup. He’s now got four weeks until we play South Africa to make sure he’s in great physical condition. He won’t be involved in our two remaining [warm-up] games but he has shown in training and also in that game against France that he’s in very good condition, so we’ll look forward to him getting to the World Cup in one piece.”


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About David Barnes 3911 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.

3 Comments

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  2. The above article is so informative and in depth , one of the best i have ever read to be fair , honest to goodness explaining the thinking behind decisions, i thoroughly enjoyed it and wished thast all the Rugby Head Coaches were so open and didnt talk in riddles and sound bites, looking forward to more.

  3. There are actually a number of comments from Toony I agrre with. We did start fairly well last Saturday, the major issue to me being that we didn’t find that incisive finish early on so just came away with 3 points for a dominant first 10 minutes. The effort, accuracy and physicality seemed to then fall off for the rest of the half, 30 minutes when we were definitely second-best. It has to be something psychological – it’s not the first time we have a bright start which then rapidly fades before we’re jolted to our senses in the second half. Also agree re Steyn and Bayliss – Steyn has looked good when he’s played, he just has arguably 2 even better wings to compete for a spot in the starting 15. Back row will be an interesting call – Bayliss did add some energy against Italy and suspect Mish and Crosbie will not be travelling to France. However, when it comes to unsung heroes, Dave Cherry also needs to be named. So solid and reliable and often crops up to get an all-important try. I hope his omission from this weekend’s 23 means he’s already done enough and it will be up to Rambo to prove he has something to offer off the bench to beat Ashman to the 3rd choice hooker slot.

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