RWC23: Ireland v Scotland: Gregor Townsend looks for big bench impact

Underdogs bank on a high tempo final 20 minutes

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has picked a bench he believes can throw the kitchen sink at Ireland during the final 20 minutes of Saturday's clash. Image: © Craig Watson -
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has picked a bench he believes can throw the kitchen sink at Ireland during the final 20 minutes of Saturday's clash. Image: © Craig Watson -

ALI PRICE coming in at scrum-half in place of Ben White, who has dropped out of the match-day squad altogether, was the notable talking point from Gregor Townsend’s Scotland squad selection ahead of Saturday’s showdown with Ireland – but it is the make-up of his bench which really shines a light on his and his team’s mind-set.

Various different scoring permutations are in play as Scotland, Ireland and South Africa jockey for two quarter-final spots, but the crux of it from a Scottish perspective is that if they win by eight points and without conceding four tries then they will go through. With that in mind, Townsend appears to have reached the conclusion that grinding their way to glory against arguably the best street-fighters in world rugby is not a tenable strategy for his team, so they will look to stay in the contest for the first hour then throw the kitchen sink at Ireland in the final 20.

George Horne – preferred to White on the bench – will be asked to inject his trademark tempo during those closing stages, while the six-two split between forward and backs replacements – which includes the selection of two back-rowers in Matt Fagerson and Luke Crosbie (meaning no Hamish Watson) – is designed to facilitate the sort of fast ball from which the Scottish backline pride themselves on being able to wreak havoc.

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“We feel that Ali has played really well during this period and trained very well,” explained Townsend. “He was excellent over in St Etienne [for Scotland’s warm-up match against France], he was very good off the bench against South Africa and we saw what he’d been doing in training during that Romanian game.

“The accuracy in his pass, the confidence in where he is in terms of taking on defenders, making passes which lead to tries, all that is great as he’s been a key player for us over the last six or seven years.

“For him to be back in that excellent form is a real boost. I have to say it was a difficult decision as Ben started for us in the Six Nations, he’s a really good player, very confident, very aggressive and with a great kicking game.

“His rise in terms of where he’s come from in the last couple of years has brought the best out of Ali recently as well as George.

“We see George as someone who has done very well for us off the bench and he deserves that opportunity again to make a difference this weekend.”

Horne’s ability to play on the wing as well as at scrum-half will also have been a consideration in his favour after the decision was made to go with just two back replacements.

“We feel the game is going to be one which is hugely physical, and we know how crucial quick ball is to our success in our attack,” Townsend continued.

“To help that we felt another back-rower [on the bench] would bring that freshness, energy and aggression that will be required for us to keep producing quick ball and defensively slow down the opposition.

“There was a debate around going to 6-2 in the first place, and when we have gone to 6-2 in the past we have had two second-rows – we have Sam Skinner and Scott Cummings can cover the back row so that was something we looked at – but we just felt that Luke Crosbie’s aggression on both sides of the ball [was what we needed].

“His [Crosbie’s] performance against Romania was outstanding. He didn’t get mentioned that much after the game but the amount of rucks he hit, the tough carries he had to do in an 80 minute performance showed us that he’s ready to make a difference.

“He played very well for us in the Six Nations, in particular the England game which was a difficult environment to go and play in, when he did what we expected from him which was to front up physically, to bring aggression and give us quick ball.”


Townsend also paid tribute to full-back Blair Kinghorn, who will win his 50th cap against Ireland, as part of a back-three which also features Duhan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham  – fresh from his four tries against Romania – meaning there is no room for Kyle Steyn.

“Blair its a great outlet for Finn [Russell]. They’ve built a really good relationship since the summer. We saw it developing in the Six Nations when Blair came off the bench. He runs really good lines. He’s a really good rugby player, he understands defences, he’s got a very good skill-set, his passing off either hand is outstanding, [and] he’s got a really good kicking game.

“Probably his best asset is his athleticism, his physical ability. That is seen more in the full-back role. Stuart Hogg had outstanding physical attributes and could easily have played 10 because he had outstanding basic skills, like Blair, but he got the best out of his career going to full-back. We’ve seen that with Blair, too, so we want the likes of Blair, Darcy, Duhan, Huw [Jones] and Sione [Tuipulotu] touching the ball as much as possible because they are excellent when they get the ball in their hands and we’ve got a 10 and a 12 that can get the ball to those wide channels and also be running threats themselves. It’s exciting to see Blair going out there for his 50th cap.

“It’s good from a coaching perspective that players who are in great form are left out. It’s not great from the player’s perspective but Kyle’s done all he could to put pressure on the two starters,” Townsend added. “Kyle played in the Six Nations, he did really well in Saint-Etienne and he’s done really well in this tournament.

“There was a challenge for Darcy.Kyle started against Tonga and Darcy has responded to that challenge. He trained really well and then both in the Tonga and Romania game he’s been back to his best level. Darcy didn’t have the smoothest of [2022-23] campaigns, he got injured which meant he was touch and go for the start of the tournament but it’s been great to see him back to his best. The way he combines with Duhan, it’s a different threat. The thing we love the most is his ability to get on ball. He got 21 carries against Romania which isn’t the ball going to him, it’s him getting on ball and making good things happen.”

Scotland stand-off Finn Russell admitted earlier this week that he hadn’t considered the possibility that he may need to slot a drop-goal – his first ever in open play – if his team find themselves just short of that magic eight-point winning margin tomorrow night. However, Townsend provided some reassurance that this possibility has now been covered off.

“He looked quite good in training knocking them over the other day so you [the media] have obviously inspired him to get out there and practice,” the coach smiled. “Finn, Blair Kinghorn, who knows [might step forward to take the kick]. These are all hypotheticals. The most important thing is we work hard for every point we can earn and we take every opportunity in their 22.”

“The pressure of sport is always there,” Townsend added. “No-one knows who is going to win the game at kick-off. Anything can happen. It is about adapting to situations, about keeping your focus when things are going well to keep it going well and to make sure you are back on track as a team when things aren’t going your way.

“You can get momentum back, you can change the score-line very quickly, and I know this team can do that. We have done that in the past.

“Regarding this particular scenario, we definitely want to be the team that goes out there fearless with nothing to lose. That’s the way we’ve been thinking and planning this week.”



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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.


  1. Price first aimless box kick took all of 20 seconds and it lead to first try. GT getting extension of contract is crazy.

  2. Townie is delusional if he believes the Scottish bench tonight will be stuffed with impact players other than wee George.

    • Townsend is delusional .judging on what I’m seeing
      Writing this at 9.10pm …….half time
      Ireland have outclassed Scotland .
      Scotland are very poor with no ideas.
      Embarrassing now

  3. Can just about agree with GT over the selection……Redpath Healy Steyn must’ve been close to the 23 but you can see what GT is thinking.
    Wee rub of the green, wee bounce of the ball……COME ON

  4. Good side. Best he could have selected. Hamish can count himself unlucky. But Crosbie is a very effective but underrated player. Steyn also unlucky. But 33 into 23 won’t go. Redpath will have a role to play in the quarter final. Because we are getting through.


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