Scotland v Ireland: 10 questions for Gregor Townsend on his team selection

Why was hat-trick hero Blair Kinghorn left out? Is he concerned about breaking up the all-Edinburgh front-five? Will the weather be a factor?

Gregor Townsend
Scotland head Gregor Townsend. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson.

1. How can you drop a guy who scored a hat-trick last week?

Sean Maitland would have started against Italy with Tommy Seymour if he’d been fit, and we were always hoping he would get back fit for this game.

Blair Kinghorn’s performance did mean that we had an extended discussion that probably went on a second day, but we believe that Tommy and Sean are best equipped for this game.

“Nothing should be taken away from Blair’s performance and what he could do if he was selected this week. To have the three of them available to us, one off the bench, means we’ve got stronger cover in the back three than ever before.

“The fact we did not announce [the team] to the squad until Wednesday meant those discussions lasted longer. We also had to wait to see if Sean could train this week. He trained fully on Monday and Tuesday, which gave us much more confidence this was the selection we were going with.”

2. What extra does Maitland offer?

“He is an excellent player who has shown his quality week-in and week-out with Saracens and also with Scotland.

“He has scored a lot of tries for Scotland in the last 12 months. He brings more than just the wing role of making breaks and scoring tries. He brings a lot of communication defensively, and his kick-chase … he must be one of the best for that. He is one of our leaders. He presented to the group on an area of the game [kick-cycle] yesterday, so he is an important part of our squad.”

3. What about Seymour’s contribution?

“Tommy is also part of our leadership group – a different leadership group – and he played well at the weekend and showed he is one of the best players in the world in catching balls in the air.

“To have both of them [Maitland and Seymour] available at the same time this weekend is a boost. They are in great form, with Blair in great form as an option off the bench too.”

A packed weekend of Scotland v Ireland matches:

Scotland team v Ireland: Gregor Townsend makes four changes

Ireland make five changes for Scotland clash as Robbie Henshaw joins injured list

U20 6N: Three changes to Scotland side ahead of Ireland clash

Women’s 6N: one change in Scotland team to face Ireland

Rob Chrystie makes five changes for Scotland Club XV trip to Dublin

4. How did Kinghorn take the news?

“Players take it differently – sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes they’re accepting and sometimes they argue back. Blair was quiet. He’ll be disappointed, I know.

“We have a huge responsibility and privilege, selecting a team, that you’re giving players an opportunity on one hand and on the other hand you’re not selecting them to start for the country. But Blair has done nothing wrong. What we saw from the weekend was excellent finishing, getting on ball a lot, but also what pleased us was his work rate off the ball – handling Italian kicks, working back to help Stuart at full-back, and that’s a massive part of our game now as well, something that Sean and Tommy also do really well.”

5. How helpful is it to have so many senior players returning from injury?

“We are closer to it [our strongest 23] this week than last week. It would have been great to have WP Nel and Sam Skinner also available to us, so it’s disappointing for them to miss out, but we were always aiming for the comebacks of Fraser Brown, Jonny Gray, Sean Maitland and Pete Horne if they got through rehab and through training.

“They really provide a boost to everyone. They’ve been in these situations before, they’ve played well for Scotland, there’s experience now back in the team with Sean and Jonny, and there’s experience on the bench with Fraser and Pete, that we didn’t have as much of last week.”

6. Any concerns about breaking up the all-Edinburgh front 5?

“Second row is the position we have most depth of competition in. Ben Toolis and Grant Gilchrist have formed a good partnership, they’ve been playing well, and it was good that they started with the rest of the Edinburgh front-five last week – but Jonny is a very important player for us. He has been consistently outstanding for Scotland for the last three or four years. This game is set for a Jonny Gray performance of huge effort in defence and ball carrying. Together with his experience of playing at international level he was always going to come back into the team if he was fit.”

7. When are you expecting to have WP Nel and Sam Skinner back?

“We’re still aiming that they’ll be back for the French game. With these injuries, the first week is just about getting over the pain and seeing how much it settles down in the second week.

“We felt we were taking precautions with WP last week because he had a tight calf in the first half. We did ask if he wanted to come off at half-time and he said he was fine. Then, when we did take him off he needed further exploratory work and there was a slight tear in there. It’s not a deep tear, it’s superficial, but we’ll see what happens over the next few weeks to see if he’s available to us in Paris.

“With Sam, it’s an injury he’s had before and he feels he can get back in two or three weeks but he was pretty sore after the game. He’s back at his club and we’ll check in with him next week.”

8. Any worries about the weather?

“Tomorrow’s team run looks set to be with 40 mph winds and rain and it’s going to be very windy on Saturday. It might be a different game than we played on Saturday against Italy when it was near perfect playing conditions.”

9. Will the Scotland team be tactically astute enough to cope with that and with what Ireland throw at them?

“I feel our group have improved a lot tactically over the last few years. Players themselves are more experienced now. When you have that experience through the spine of your team: the two hookers have played a lot for us, Stuart McInally has been captain of the team and Fraser Brown has played for a number of years; No 8 with Ryan Wilson and Josh Strauss are experienced; the half-backs are now both experienced players; and Stuart Hogg at 15 is very experienced.

“The conversations and communication in the field will be based on what they feel and see … what’s working for them.

“I have to say at the weekend Finn Russell’s decision-making and tactical understanding were first class.”

10. How helpful is it that Ireland have picked up a few injuries to key players?

“I think the depth they have is amazing. When it looked like Garry Ringrose was going to miss out they brought Rob Kearney back in and put Robbie Henshaw to 13. Now he’s out, Chris Farrell is a very good player, he’s strong and when he played for Ireland last year I thought he was outstanding until he picked up an injury. They’re going to be very direct in that midfield with him and Bundee Aki.

“They’ve still got the world’s best half-backs in Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton available to them. Keith Earls who left the field last week is an outstanding player and they can just swap in anybody in that pack; Sean O’Brien, one of the best Irish forwards of recent times.

“We know the challenge we’re up against, our players play against Leinster, Munster, Ulster regularly, we play Ireland once a year and this year we get to play them twice. So, we do know how good they are and how they’re going to attack us in this game.

“They’ll want to get back to what they do best, which is controlled possession. They’re a very good defensive team as well and they’ll challenge our contact. It’ll be a huge battle and within that there’s many battles around the restart, the kick-cycle, the contact area, scrum and lineout. It’s something we can’t wait to get stuck into.”

Scotland team v Ireland: Gregor Townsend makes four changes


About David Barnes 4026 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.

1 Comment

  1. The only strange move is Johnny Gray. Townsend claims he’s being playing great foe 3-4 years but he obviously hasn’t seen him this year at Glasgow. He’s had a quiet season.

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