BLADE Thomson will make his long-awaited Scotland debut against France on Saturday in a starting line-up that shows 14 changes from the one that began last week’s 32-3 defeat by the same opponents. The Scarlets forward will start at No 8, while hooker Grant Stewart will also win his first cap if he comes off the bench.
Full-back Stuart Hogg is the only player to retain his place from the match in Nice, and remains one of the two vice-captains in the team, along with Ryan Wilson, who is at blindside. Greig Laidlaw takes over the captaincy from Stuart McInally, and is partnered at half-back by Finn Russell.
“I think it was actually going to be 15 changes at one stage but seeing as Stuart Hogg left the field early with cramp [last Saturday], we decided that he could do with another game,” explained Townsend. “He was looking pretty sharp before he came off and he was very keen to play.”
Lock Scott Cummings starts his first Test after making his debut off the bench last week, and plays alongside Sam Skinner. Rory Hutchinson is among the replacements and could also make his second Scotland appearance.
Thomson was originally called into the squad for last year’s Autumn Internationals, but injury prevented him from making his appearance then. He takes his place in a pack which looks considerably beefier than the one which conceded second best by a long way in the first World Cup warm-up game in France.
“We did look at starting Blade last week but given where he was in terms of training at that time, we thought it would be better if he had another week,” explained Townsend. “He has trained really well and we feel he is ready to play now,”
“The plan over the first two weeks was to play the majority of the squad and put two teams out that we believed were strong enough to Test matches. Obviously, that wasn’t the case last week, and now it is up to this group of players to rectify that on Saturday.
“We’ve reflected a lot on the build-up to last weekend’s game – the week’s training, the day itself, what we could have done differently as coaches. We focussed a lot on ourselves going into the build-up. In normal Test matches we’d probably look at the opposition 20-30 percent and ourselves 70-80 percent, but, in this case, it was a lot about our game and we obviously weren’t able to impose our game in attack or defence.
“So, it has narrowed our minds. It was a painful lesson for players and coaches that we have to do much better in the build-up, and we have to deliver a much better performance in the game.
“We’ve seen how the players have reacted in training and how they’ve reacted in their meetings – their focus and edge compared to last week has certainly been present in training.
“It is obviously a different group of players, but they feel as hurt as the team that went out at the weekend did.
“So, we will see a better performance, and it has to be a lot better because France are in great shape and they’ve picked a stronger team this weekend.”
Scotland (v France at Murrayfield, Saturday, 1.10pm): S Hogg; T Seymour, C Harris, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, G Turner, W Nel, S Cummings, S Skinner, R Wilson, H Watson, B Thomson. Substitutes: G Stewart, A Dell, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, J Barclay, G Horne, R Hutchinson, B Kinghorn.