Scotland v Italy reaction: Townsend delighted as English-based players get go-ahead for Paris

Head coach encouraged by his team's positive performance in record win over the Azzurri

Gregor Townsend believes he will be able to pick from all his first players for Friday's final Six Nations match versus France. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Gregor Townsend believes he will be able to pick from all his first players for Friday's final Six Nations match versus France. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

A GOOD day for Gregor Townsend and his Scotland team on the pitch got even better immediately after the final whistle of their record win over Italy at Murrayfield when the head coach was informed that a deal had finally been struck to allow his English-based players to be released for next Friday’s clash against France in Paris.

A compensation agreement has been reached to bring an end to the tense stand-off between Six Nations and PRL – the umbrella group which represents the clubs in England’s top flight – following the decision to schedule this Covid-delayed fixture outside the international window.

That means that Townsend can expect to have players such as captain Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Scott Steele, Sam Skinner, Jonny Gray and Jamie Bhatti all in the selection mix if fit.

Racing 92 head coach Laurent Travers has previously stated that Finn Russell – the only French-based player in the squad –would be released for the match.

Scotland’s 52-10 win over Italy this afternoon lifted them to fourth in the table and a win by six points or more next weekend, whilst matching France on bonus points, would put Townsend’s team second, which would be a best ever Six Nations finish. It’s a long shot!

Meanwhile, France’s last-gasp 32-30 win over Wales later in the day means that they can clinch the Six Nations title if they win by more than 20 points and with a bonus point on Friday.


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“Six Nations Rugby are pleased to confirm that an agreement has been reached with Premiership Rugby for the release of Scottish players for the final rescheduled fixture of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations Championship, France v Scotland,” said a statement issued by the tournament organisers last night.

“Six Nations and Scottish Rugby would like to take this opportunity to thank all PRL club owners for their understanding and co-operation in these exceptional Covid affected circumstances.”

Townsend was understandably delighted at the outcome.  “Thanks to the parties involved – Scottish Rugby, the Six Nations and the PRL – we can get to this situation where we’ll have a strong squad, as strong as we can have, going to Paris, which is a really important game for us and the tournament,” he said.

“It shows we can work together and find a solution. I’m sure there was compromises and understanding from both parties. I’m sure there’s been some financial contributions as well. But it’s great we can have our players for this massive game next week.

“It’s encouraging, because on Saturday morning we didn’t have those details confirmed.”

Townsend added that he has no new injury concerns following yesterday’s match and added that he is hopeful about the prospects of Russell (concussion) and Gray (shoulder injury) coming back into the frame next week.

Now his focus is on making sure that he balances the need to fine tune his team for a massive challenge on Friday, with keeping his match-day 23 as fresh as possible for what will be the team’s third game inside 12 days.

“We just need to make sure that in this six-day turnaround, we do our best to recover and get those one or two training sessions we’ll have this week at a real high quality,” he added. “The goal is to go into the France game with confidence in each other as teammates but also with as fresh a squad as possible.

“When you play Test matches there are going to be some sore bodies over the next couple of days, but we did manage our squad today by giving other players the opportunity to start and by managing game time.”

It was Scotland’s biggest ever win in the championship, and while that must be judged in the context of being against an inexperienced opposition, worn down by four heavy defeats leading into this match, who missed 49 tackles over the course of the match, Townsend rightly pointed out that there is no such thing as an easy game at international level.

With Hogg playing out of position at stand-off, plus Steele and Dave Cherry making their first international starts in the crucial scrum-half and hookers slots, respectively, the coach was understandably happy with how things panned out.

“We always approach these games knowing Italy are a very tough team to break down, and we saw with them scoring that first try that it was going to be a real challenge,” he said. “It’s credit to the players that they stuck with what they wanted to go out and do.

“You need scoreboard pressure against Italy – if they’re ahead at half-time then they get confident – but if you put pressure on them by getting ahead, they have to try other things. With the attack we had, and the defence that forced penalties, we made it much tougher for them.”

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It was a particularly gratifying experience for Cherry, the 30-year-old hooker who spent several seasons playing lower league rugby in England and France, before getting his big break by being signed by his hometown club of Edinburgh in the summer of 2018. After two seasons as third choice at the capital outfit, he has enjoyed a meteoric rise since the end of lockdown, culminating in two tries in yesterday’s match.

“I just try to live in every moment and do the job to the best of my ability and it wasn’t too bad today,” he said afterwards. “Scoring from the back of a maul, it’s really the guys at the front of the maul who do all the hard work and I just have to dot it down.

“But it was a good team performance – we bounced back from a poor display last week – so, on the whole, we’re really happy.  I don’t think we were as clinical as we could have been, but the score-line still shows we had a good outing a put away some good tries, and that’s what matters.

“We got the reaction we were looking for. We didn’t perform as well as we should have in the last game. This puts things right, but we know next week will be an even bigger challenge.

“In terms of this game, you can only play the team in front of you and this was a good step forward.”


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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.

10 Comments

  1. I wasn’t bothered if Wales won, or indeed lost, I wanted to see the French play with flair and intent. I changed my mind after the eye gouging incident, so I felt justice wasn’t done as the offenders team still won.

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  2. Big shout out to Dave Cherry, International debut at 30 and 2 tries yesterday. It’s what dreams are made of.

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  3. The win would need to be by 8 or more for 2nd otherwise France woulď get a bonus point to put them ahead, unless we got a bonus point for 4 tries.

    • Thanks Mac. I think we are saying the same thing – although is is complicated! My take is that Scotland need to win by six to get ahead of Ireland on points difference, and then must match France on bonus points [by which I am counting four tries and/or losing by seven].

  4. Excellent news.

    Did anyone else get more satisfaction watching France deny Wales their Grand slam than us getting a record win over Italy in the six nations?

    Thought the welsh were about to get luck from the ref again (he did try very hard!)
    There has to be a punishment of some kind for diving, (Wyn Jones), 2- match ban?

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    • I honestly didn’t give a cr**.
      I enjoyed the game which was fantastic.
      Focus on ourselves rather than being jealous of Wales.

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      • Completely agree, John. 3 red cards for clearing out Welsh props this tournament shows what a nuisance they’ve been at the breakdown. Fair play to them. My only gripe is the inconsistency. How Fagerson’s was a red but the Italian clear out yesterday is penalty-only is completely beyond me.

      • Why just focus on ourselves as fans?, we are not the Scotland team playing week in and out.

        And there is a difference between jealousy and enjoying a bit of justice occur, makes the France game next week more interesting imo also.

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