1. Training got a bit tasty on Tuesday
Gregor Townsend said:
“We started a session live. We don’t do that every week, but we did it this week. It then finished live as well, which we didn’t ask them to do.
“A few players on the defensive side were maybe pushing the edge – and that maybe flicked a switch with the attack guys.
“I’m glad it happened. I loved the response from the guys, but it wasn’t something we had asked to happen
“Most of the time I feel [confident]. I definitely felt that way after Tuesday’s session. One of the sessions last week wasn’t that great, and that happens, but the Friday session was one of the best we’ve had and Tuesday this week it got feisty – maybe because Gerard [Butler] was watching!
“It became more like a game, there were live elements and the players came through it really well. We’ve been delighted by how they’ve applied themselves, the quality they’re producing at training.”
2. Match sharpness and cohesion is more important than worrying about injuries
“Yes, it trumps it by a big way. If it was only one week until the World Cup and we had a game this weekend then that would be a different discussion. But from our last game [France away] it will be four weeks until we play South Africa, so getting to play Georgia two weeks after France and two weeks before we play South Africa gives us the chance to give players a rest to recover from any niggles they might get this weekend and to build on cohesion.
“The team has changed over the last few weeks but across the three games there are connections being built and there are more minutes into our players as we approach a World Cup.
“As a team, we have to take our game up to another level as we move towards the World Cup, so playing as many of those combinations that we believe will play against South Africa in two weeks’ time is really important.
“Not only do you get to play the game, you get to train in the build-up to the game – the starting team trains together – so another week of that to build cohesion is crucial for us so that we play close to our best rugby against South Africa.”
“We’re hoping to beat the world champions – the number three team in the world – in our first game, so we’re not going to do that if players haven’t had match experience and, as a team, we haven’t had another opportunity to improve.
“The other thing is that there is just as much chance of picking up injuries in training. On Tuesday at training there were three guys who stepped out. Now, they’re all okay, but we’ve seen it before at training: someone steps out, sees the doctor and they’ve got a six-week injury and miss the World Cup.
“Training now is so intense and it doesn’t have to be contact to make it intense, it might just you’re running after a kick at 100 per cent and you change direction and a hamstring or a knee goes. So, the whole training-game gap is no longer there and we just cross our fingers that guys don’t pick up injuries over the next few weeks, but it could easily happen in training as well as a game.”
3. Georgia is on their minds … until about 8pm on Saturday night
“This is the ideal game before we face South Africa. Their biggest strengths are the scrum, maul, and in contact. South Africa are one of the best teams in the world and their big strengths are also in the scrum, maul and contact. So, for the team and especially our forwards, this will be a great test for what’s coming.
“They’re a confident team. They’ve won 12 out of their last 13 games. They’ve played two Six Nations teams in that period, Italy and Wales, and beat them both.
“We know we are going to be up against a team that believe they can win this weekend. ‘They’ve got some really talented players and have more to come with the way their under-20s are playing.
4. But the Springbok shadow looms large over everything
“We’ll be more interested in Friday night’s game [than South Africa’s big win over Wales last weekend]. They’ve picked what looks like their strongest team and New Zealand have picked a very strong team as well. That will give us more of a sense of where they are. They’ve had a lot of games already this season with the Rugby Championship, and probably only put their number one team out once, over in New Zealand.
“They’ve definitely opened up their game, evolved it over the last 12 months. In the November Tests, that was a different South Africa team when we saw them take on Ireland, France and England. They were moving the ball much wider. They’ve carried that on through the Rugby Championship. Whether that will be the case when we play them in two weeks’ time, we’ll see. But they have ball players in the backline and an outstanding back-three. It looks like they’re more encouraged to move the ball to those channels, whereas perhaps in the past it would only be on turnover ball or loose kicks from the opposition. Now it’s a strategy to move teams around more.”
5. Blair Kinghorn’s quad issue is not a major concern
“Blair had a niggle after the game in Saint Etienne, so he didn’t train last week with the group. He didn’t train this Monday either but is now fully fit.
“We had two days’ training last week with a team in mind to start against Georgia. If we had left the decision a bit later, he would have been in the mix for this weekend.”
6. Ben White is alright after ankle fright
“He’s recovered really well. It’s great that he gets an opportunity to play minutes. He didn’t play that long against France and obviously missed the second game against them.
“Just to have him playing again will give him confidence as we go to the World Cup. He’s trained fully this week and looks back to where he was going into that home game against France.
“He’s even said that his ankle feels better than it did back then so it’s a real positive sign.”
7. Zander Fagerson has completed ‘tackle school’
“He’s had the most detailed tackle school I think I’ve ever seen. He did it over in Saint-Etienne just after he had done a really tough fitness session. John Dalziel took him through a variety of drills and then did some work in the gym.
“He’s already connected with one of the guys on the hearing panel who asked for a bit more detail and another exercise for him to do. I don’t know the outcome of that, but he’s done everything we believe has been asked of him.”
8. Members of the wider squad are still involved
“We had a bigger squad training this week, with the likes of Jamie Dobie, Murphy Walker, Allan Dell, Kyle Rowe, Cam Henderson, so it’s great that we’re able to see those guys who just missed out on selection and for them to be integrated with us, in case of the outside chance of them being called up.”
9. Back-up stand-off Ben Healy doesn’t need more time in the saddle despite lack of game time at international level
“No, not really. Ben played against Italy in his first game of the season and he did really well. We’ve only had two 10s in training for the last three or four weeks, so Ben is getting a lot of reps in training.
“Sometimes when you have three guys in one position, one of them won’t train as much, but we’ve had Ben and Finn training as the two 10s for the last few weeks. He can go into the game at the weekend full of confidence when he gets on because he’s trained really well.”
10. Assistant coach Brad Moaar will be scouting duty this weekend
“He was down at Cardiff last weekend, and down to Twickenham [for South Africa versus New Zealand] this Friday night. He may venture over to France as well for a watch [of Ireland versus Samoa] on Saturday. Obviously all of us will be watching the games this weekend when we get a chance to watch them. It’ll probably be Sunday when we see the Ireland game because we’re playing at the same time. Coaches and players will be watching the game on Friday night.”