Gregor Townsend says he had initially planned to change the entire starting XV for Saturday’s match against France at Murrayfield, but was persuaded to keep star man Stuart Hogg in the side because the full-back feels he needs more game time after coming off early with cramp last weekend.
Scotland slumped to a demoralising 32-3 thrashing in the first of their four World Cup warm-up games in the south of France on Saturday evening, but Townsend has backed his side to bounce back in the rematch if they get their basics right.
He has made 14 changes to the starting line-up, meaning the vast majority of players in this weekend’s team were not directly responsible for the debacle in Nice, but the head coach insists that the side which will take the park on Saturday are hurting just as much from the result as the individuals who did play.
“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 play Test matches,” Townsend said. “Obviously, that wasn’t the case last week, and now it is up to this group of players to rectify that on Saturday.
“I think it was actually going to be 15 changes at one stage but, seeing as Stuart Hogg left the field early with cramp, we decided that he could do with another game. He was looking pretty sharp before he came off and he was very keen to play.
“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 focused 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.
BREAKING | Full-back Stuart Hogg is the only player reselected in Scotland's starting side as several experienced campaigners return for Saturday’s rematch against France at @BTMurrayfield (kick-off 1.10pm) – live on Premier Sports 📺 pic.twitter.com/wIjD8DY01S— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) August 21, 2019
“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.”
He continued: “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.
“The physical drive is usually led by the players in the front five and the back row, but it has to be right across the team because France have got a physical back line too. The players know that and know that is what should happen every time they play for Scotland.
“Last week was a reminder to us all that if you don’t do that, you are going to come to a big loss – we don’t need another reminder. We have seen that in training, we have seen the talk, we know the players well and are looking forward to seeing what they can do at the weekend.”
New Zealand-born back row Blade Thomson has been handed a first Scotland cap at number eight, after his previous call-up was derailed by a concussion suffered the week before the start of the 2018 November Test series. That injury also ruled him out of the Six Nations.
“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. He has trained really well and we feel he is ready to play now,” Townsend said.
- Press Association