GREGOR TOWNSEND believes his team’s big win over Romania was the ideal preparation for next Saturday night’s World Cup Pool B do-or-die showdown against Ireland in Paris, and added that the team’s performance has thrown up a few new selection conundrums for that match.
“I’m really pleased with the level of competition, the depth we have and the individual performances tonight that means whoever goes out next week we can be confident of their ability to get the job done,” said the Scotland, who acknowledged that veteran flanker Hamish Watson was one player who put his hand up.
“I thought Hamish was very good. He started carrying really well and that gave a big boost to the team. He’s trained really well all week and he’s in excellent physical shape as well. He showed that tonight.
“I’ve not thought about selection, we’ll get on to that tomorrow. We’ll go onto more detail around ruck clears and tackles and other work but I thought he played well.”
“I also thought Ben Healy played really well. It’s a tricky game when you’ve got to do the basics first, and then when opportunities open up when they go down to 14 or 13 men, how do you exploit that, and how do you keep on task and not get ahead of yourself when the scoreboard is going up – and I thought he did all that really well.
“He also came into the game as a runner in the second half. So, that’s an area he is definitely developing. The goal-kicking was an added bonus, and we were encouraging him to take them quickly so to knock them over and be accurate without taking the full minute was well done by him as well.
“It has been a tough time for a lot of these players, to not play. Some of them have not played since our first World Cup warm-up game against Italy, and that was a deliberate policy to keep a [match-day] 23 or [starting] 15 working as much as possible together as we built up to our South Africa game, and then when you have a two week break, then another week versus Tonga, it is a long time to wait to play at a World Cup. But they grabbed their opportunity tonight and whether that means they play next week will be decided in selection.”
Meanwhile, Darcy Graham, one of the few players who started the game as a likely selection next week, was star of the show with four of his side’s 12 tries, which takes his to 24 in his international career, putting him equal second in Scotland’s all-time try-scorer table, three behind current record holder and fellow Hawick man Stuart Hogg.
“Darcy is someone who will create opportunities to score tries because of his willingness to get on ball,” said Townsend. “He picked up a lot of the balls because he got back off the ground to be in position. He saw space and he also is a great finisher. His footwork for the fourth try was incredible. He had a couple of assists as well, so he certainly plays for the team.
“In the last two games he’s played at this World Cup, Darcy’s really gone for it and we’ve seen that in training. Sometimes it’s tough when you’re a winger and you’ve not had the game time he would have liked after he picked up that little niggle over the summer but he’s now flying and that’s brilliant to see.”
Next weekend’s opponents are currently ranked No 1 in the world and are high on confidence after their epic win over South Africa last weekend, but Townsend insisted Scotland have nothing to fear – despite being on an eight-match losing streak in this fixture against Ireland.
“All the games we’ve played have been different apart from the fact that we haven’t won in the last seven or eight,” he said “The games that we’ve played better in we’ve certainly put pressure on Ireland on the scoreboard, and we’ve had opportunities to go and win the game, or potentially draw game – like when we lost by seven points in Dublin in 2020 and definitely left a couple of tries out on the field. And in 2021 at Murrayfield, it was 24-all going into the last two or three minutes.
“To reflect on this year’s game [during the Six Nations], that was probably our best performance for 50 minutes. We had a couple of huge opportunities in the first half, after Duhan made a line-break to five metres from the Irish line we lost the ball in contact and then five minutes before half-time we were close to scoring and we got bundled into touch.
“I think in any Test match when you play a side who are really good – and Ireland are now ranked the top team in the world – you have to take your opportunities.
“But, you’ve got to create them first as well, and the encouraging thing is we have created opportunities. Taking them and playing at a level of intensity and accuracy to the final whistle is important, and that’s always challenging against the top teams, but we believe that our team is capable of doing that.”
Townsend added that there was no new injury concerns. “There are the usual straight after a game collisions. Ollie Smith got a whack on the shins and Kyle Steyn did well to get over his jarred ankle to play 80 minutes, so he feels he’ll be good to go next week,” he said.