AFTER three warm-up matches in which results and performances have improved markedly, the message from Gregor Townsend to his players before tomorrow night’s game against Georgia can easily be summarised: more of the same, please.
For those individuals such as Jonny Gray who have had little or no match practice so far, the primary aim will be to get some action under their belts prior to the Ireland game at the World Cup. For the team as a whole, though, this match is about becoming slicker in their execution of moves and more confident about which moves to try when.
It will not be the last chance for Townsend to decide on his starting line-up to face Ireland – with two weeks to go before then, there are still training sessions and fitness tests aplenty before he has to do that. But how certain combinations perform this evening will be important, especially as a strong starting XV looks like it could contain as many as nine men who have been pencilled in for the first pool match.
Asked what the most important aspects of this game would be for the home team, Townsend replied: “To build on last week. We’ve identified areas where we can improve in attack and defence. To build on some good work in the set piece against a real challenge that we have in that area. And obviously to get through the game with confidence, with a team that has taken another step towards playing to their full potential, and hopefully a fully fit group after 80 minutes.
“[We want a] win and an improved performance as well. There’s a lot of elements go into a winning performance, elements that we look at after a game. The process of how to put teams under pressure, how to execute, our attack, how we defend – we look at all those areas. So improvement from last week is what we’ll look for.
“And also we look for ways to win games. Our players have shown that two weeks ago against France when they had to come from behind and win, and then last week with their start and their accuracy and their intensity in that first 20 minutes, that gave us a great platform to win.”
Beware the wounded animal
Those first 20 minutes in Tbilisi were enough to thoroughly deflate Georgia and disabuse them of any notion that they might claim a victory against the first Tier One nation to visit them. But despite his side’s 44-10 win last Saturday, Townsend does not expect this return match to be easy.
“We can’t take this game lightly,” he continued. “We put a lot of hard work into last week’s performance, analysed the opposition and focused on what we needed to do to win away from home. It’s not going to come out if we’re complacent in any way.
“Georgia less than two years ago played at the Principality against Wales and lost by seven points. They will do all they can to produce a historic result for them, and they have the players and the power to upset any team in the world.”
Asked how close he was to knowing his starting line-up against Ireland, Townsend added: “I suppose reasonably close. We’ve seen through training and through games, and what the players have done previously for Scotland, on what would look like a strong 15, a strong 23 for Ireland.
“But there are positions that are still very competitive. There are blends that we’re still looking at, that might suit a team like Ireland but maybe not suit a team like Samoa or Russia or Japan. So selection hasn’t been decided, but certainly a lot of players have put their hands up to be in that game.”
Ryan Wilson, who skippers the team with Gray and Tommy Seymour as his vice-captains, is one of those who have put their hands up. But his assessment of the squad of 31 as a whole suggests that he expects a tough battle to get into the starting line-up not only to face Ireland but also for the matches to follow.
“We’re going into it with, I reckon, the strongest squad we have ever had going into a World Cup,” he said. “You look at the guys who missed out, it just goes to show. People are arguing there are guys who should be in there, but they’re missing out because we have such a strong squad at the moment.
“The belief in the squad is good, and we’re slowly building. That night in Nice [the defeat by France] wasn’t great, but since then we have fixed a few things and we’re going in the right direction.”
Scotland (v Georgia at BT Murrayfield, Friday 6 September, 7.30pm, live on Premier Sports): Blair Kinghorn; Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor, Sam Johnson, Darcy Graham; Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Gordon Reid, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Jonny Gray, Ryan Wilson, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson. Substitutes: Grant Stewart, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Ben Toolis, Magnus Bradbury, George Horne, Pete Horne, Chris Harris.
Georgia: Soso Matiashvili; Zurab Dzneladze, Davit Kacharava, Lasha Malaghuradze, Mirian Modebadze; Tedo Abzhandadze, Vasil Lobzhanidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Beka Gigashvili, Kote Mikautadze, Giorgi Nemsadze, Shalva Sutiashvili, Giorgi Tkhilaishvili, Beka Gorgadze. Substitutes: Vano Karkadze; Guram Gogichasvili, Giorgi Melikidze, Lasha Lonidze, Beka Saghinadze, Gela Aprasidze, Tamaz Mtchedlidze, Giorgi Kveseladze.