RWC23: South Africa v Scotland: Gregor Townsend explains World Cup opener selection

Ewan Ashman and George Horne are concussed

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend discusses his team selection for World Cup opener against South Africa. Image: © Craig Watson -
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend discusses his team selection for World Cup opener against South Africa. Image: © Craig Watson -

HAVING named a reassuringly predictable starting XV for Scotland’s World Cup opener against South Africa in Marseilles on Sunday, Gregor Townsend threw a minor curve ball with his bench selection – opting for the once traditional five-three split rather than the six-two divide between backs and forwards which has become customary against the fabled Springbok ‘bomb squad’.

“There were a couple of reasons,” he explained. “We’ve had six-two a couple of times this year and it was of benefit in Paris when we had a red card to Grant Gilchrist inside the first ten minutes, and we know with the flexibility of someone like Blair Kinghorn that we can go six-two.

“But we felt that we wanted to bring on players who can make an impact and help us win. Players who can cover specific positions. If you go six-two, you are compromised in the backline.

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“We didn’t want that situation and, also, we’ve got to be cognisant that Darcy Graham has just come back from a [quad] niggle, so has Blair Kinghorn. We’ve got to make sure we cover that eventuality.”

The coach also explained that hooker Ewan Ashman and scrum-half George Horne were both unavailable for selection this week.

“We picked up two injuries in training,” he revealed. “Ewan and George both had concussions so they’ll be ruled out for this weekend, and we don’t play next week so it will be 12-day turnaround minimum, and hopefully they recover fully to be available for our training week ahead of Tonga.”

As a precaution, Stuart McInally has flown to France in case one the two fit hookers in the squad – George Turner and Dave Cherry – pick up an injury before Sunday’s match.

“It’s obviously a specialised position, the front-row, and we must have cover, or we wouldn’t be able to put out 15 players and we’d have to go uncontested scrums,” said the coach.

“So, it’s great that he’s here but there are certain rules and regulations he has to abide by. He can’t train with the team. He’s here as a precaution. We obviously hope that Dave and George get through today’s training and the weekend, and also that Ewan makes a full and quick recovery, and we don’t need to make any changes to our squad.”

Townsend added that he is confident about tight-head prop Zander Fagerson being ready for the challenge of taking in the Springbok scrum after serving a two-match suspension, despite the 27-year-old having played just 50 minutes of rugby since Glasgow Warriors’ Challenge Cup Final loss to Toulon in May.

“He’s fresh, he’s trained really hard, and we’ve scrummed a lot,” said Townsend. “I don’t believe it [not playing much rugby] affects props as much as maybe backline positions where getting touches on the ball, making defensive decisions in difficult situations, you need the match practice.

“Zander is very fit. His work is going to be in the set-piece and at close quarters. I see it as a bonus that he’s been able to do more fitness work. We had our best scrummaging session of the campaign on Wednesday which was great.

“We’ve spent a lot of time on our scrum. Zander has been a key part of it, and with the looseheads we have competing hard against him and the competition we have at tight-head, he’s got a lot of match fitness in terms of what he will be doing at the weekend.

“The majority of these players have played together all year,” he added. “A couple of players missed the Six Nations, Rory Darge and Darcy Graham who are back fit and back with us.

“It’s a team that deserves to go out there. They have earned the right to start in such an important fixture because of the way they have played, and the way they have trained.

“We have built a lot of cohesion over the last two or three months by training with certain combinations week after week. We’ve seen the benefits of doing that transfer into the warm-up games, and now it’s about delivering the most complete game we have done this year.”

RWC23: South Africa v Scotland: Zander Fagerson returns for World Cup opener

About David Barnes 4012 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The 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.

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