DAVID BARNES in HAMAMATSU
GREGOR TOWNSEND has, as expected, mixed up the Scotland match-day squad for Wednesday’s penultimate World Cup pool match against Russia, making 14 changes to the starting XV which took the field against Samoa last Monday, with Darcy Graham – swapping from the right to the left wing – the only player being asked to double up.
Fraser Brown, who is usually a hooker but came through the ranks as a back-row, has been named at openside flanker, while Blair Kinghorn (full-back), Peter Horne (centre), Ben Toolis (second-row) and George Turner (hooker) will all make their first appearances of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Tommy Seymour (wing), John Barclay (flanker) and Ryan Wilson (No 8) have been given an opportunity to exorcise some of the demons of the team’s opening weekend flop against Ireland, having been dropped from the squad for the Samoa game.
Townsend has backed George Horne and Adam Hastings to use their familiarity with each other, gained at club level with Glasgow Warriors, to pull the strings at half-back.
Barclay will captain the side, with Wilson and Peter Horne as his assistants.
With Scotland due to play Japan in Yokohama on Sunday, just four days after the Russia match, in what looks certain to be a do-or-die clash to qualify for the last eight of this tournament, it was always likely that key men such as Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg, and Greig Laidlaw would be wrapped in cotton wool.
While Russia have been something of a surprise package in the tournament having put in strong challenges against Japan, Samoa and Ireland, they remain World Cup minnows and haven’t had enough firepower to get within 20 points of any of their opponents. Scotland needed to back their strength in depth for this match in order to give themselves the best possible chance of picking up the bonus-point win they will likely need against Japan.
Townsend has weighted his bench heavily towards the forwards, with Henry Pyrgos (a late arrival as injury cover for Ali Price) and Chris Harris the only back replacements. The intention is clearly to limit the exposure of the potential frontline players who are playing in the most physically demanding positions. It is all part of the juggling act required to play four Test matches inside a three week window with a squad of only 31 players.
Squad captain Stuart Mcinally, prop WP Nel, second-row Grant Gilchrist and back-rowers Magnus Bradbury and Jamie Ritchie are among the key men for the Japan clash who could get some game time off the bench on Wednesday.
Allan Dell, who picked up a head knock early in the Samoa match, is not included in the squad, but the most recent update on the prop is that he is progressing on schedule through the return to play protocol.
“First and foremost we’ve picked a team we believe is capable of defeating an increasingly impressive and combative Russia side, who are looking to finish their Pool campaign on a high,” said Townsend.
“A number of our players are getting their first start or Test in this tournament and have been itching to play their part in this World Cup, by helping the team deliver a winning performance on Wednesday.
“Any successful World Cup campaign is built on a squad effort and those players who didn’t get the opportunity to start against Samoa really helped provide that team with a quality week of preparation.
“Now it’s their chance to get stuck into our next important game as we enter the final week of our Pool matches.”
Scotland (v Russia at Shizuoka Stadium Ecopa, Fukoroi, on Wednesday 9th October, kick-off 4.15pm Japan time, 8.15am BST): Blair Kinghorn; Tommy Seymour, Duncan Taylor, Peter Horne, Darcy Graham; Adam Hastings, George Horne; Gordon Reid, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Ben Toolis, John Barclay, Fraser Brown, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Stuart Mcinally, Simon Berghan, WP Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Henry Pyrgos, Chris Harris.
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