GREGOR Townsend is hopeful of avoiding any negative reactions to Scotland’s Six Nations Championship meltdown as his players prepare to face Welsh opposition for the second time in a week.
Townsend was sufficiently impressed with the manner in which Duncan Weir bounced back from his interception nightmare against France to name him at stand-off immediately on his return for tonight’s RaboDirect Pro12 match with the Scarlets at Scotstoun.
Townsend has spoken to Weir about how he did something similar, throwing a wild pass that Philippe Saint-Andre intercepted to hand France victory at Murrayfield in 1994, and how he bounced back to contest the next two Five Nations titles and help steer the British and Irish Lions to their 1997 triumph.
Similarly Townsend spent time with full-back Stuart Hogg this week, discussing the player’s sending-off against Wales. Hogg was handed a three-week ban on Wednesday so cannot be brought into the fray quite so quickly, but the coach is confident both players will benefit from playing significant roles in the Warriors’ push for the Pro12 league title.
“Stuart has learned a very tough lesson about controlling his emotions,” said Townsend, “and controlling his actions, because they can lead to an event which was a huge blow to him personally and to the team.
“I’m sure he will use that in the right way to make sure it never happens again. He fully understands the magnitude of what could have been just a late shoulder barge and turned out to be a red card. It is part of the learning process for him, as it is for any player, when you have an incident like that, whether it is a mistake you make playing or a mistake you make that leads to a sin binning or red card.
“It will be tough for him not being involved the next three weeks because, as a player, you just want to get back on the horse. You want to play and show your team-mates you are willing to put in the hard work to put things right and he has to wait three weeks for that. But he just has to buckle down now and use these three weeks to work on areas physically and technically so that when he does play again he will be in a good state rugby wise but also mentally.”
The difference for Weir is that he can get back into the Glasgow saddle quickly, and Townsend is eager to see him putting the lessons of his first run of five starts for Scotland to the good of his club side.
“The pleasing thing to me about Duncan, and I’ve said this to him, is that he responded very quickly,” said Townsend. “When I threw my interception that cost us the game against France, it was one of the late plays of the game and the game was lost on my interception pass. Duncan got back, played well and kicked that goal that put Scotland back in the lead, so he’ll have learned a lot about timing a pass, when to pass and when not to pass, but he showed that mental toughness to come back. That’s something he’s worked hard on throughout the season because a ten will always make mistakes. It’s the ability to respond to the mistake, not the mistake itself, that defines you as a player.
“He has played five full games at international level and has been heavily involved in the positive play Scotland have produced. That [match-winning] drop-goal in Italy was fantastic and even at the weekend he did a lot of very good things. There were a lot of very good elements of Duncan’s game that did not have the outcome that would happen on another day.”
Townsend said he had considered the fitness levels of each of his players involved in a Six Nations that proved sapping physically and mentally, before selecting the team for tonight’s match, insisting that all expressed a desire to return immediately.
Chris Cusiter starts his second consecutive game for Glasgow as captain, while internationalists Alex Dunbar, Dougie Hall, Jon Welsh and Chris Fusaro are all back in the starting line-up and locks Tim Swinson and Jonny Gray remain. Peter Murchie, Niko Matawalu and Tommy Seymour are the same back three that started the 28-25 defeat to Leinster three weeks ago, meaning Seymour has recovered from the calf injury sustained on Scotland duty, while double try-scorer Richie Vernon retains the 13 jersey. Club captain Al Kellock and winger Sean Maitland are back from injury and on the bench, while Peter Horne – who was injured on Scotland’s tour to South Africa last June – is due to make his long-awaited return for Stirling County today.
The Scarlets include former Glasgow hero John Barclay and, with Rob McCusker injured, are skippered by Jonathan Davies. Other Millennium Stadium stars on duty include Liam Williams, Ken Owens, Rhodri Williams and Jake Ball.
15 P Murchie, 14 T Seymour, 13 R Vernon, 12 A Dunbar, 11 N Matawalu, 10 D Weir, 9 C Cusiter (capt), 1 G Reid, 2 D Hall, 3 J Welsh, 4 T Swinson, 5 J Gray, 6 R Harley, 7 C Fusaro, 8 J Strauss, Subs, 16 F Brown, 17 J Yanuyanutawa, 18 M Low, 19 A Kellock, 20 L Nakarawa, 21 R Jackson, 22 M Bennett, 23 S Maitland
15 L Williams, 14 K Phillips, 13 J Davies (capt), 12 O Barkley, 11 J Williams, 10 A Thomas, 9 G Davies, 1 P John, 2 K Owens, 3 S Lee, 4 G Earle, 5 J Snyman, 6 J Turnbull, 7 J Barclay, 8 S Timani, Subs, 16 E Phillips, 17 R Evans, 18 R Jones, 19 J Ball, 20 R Kelly, 21 R Williams, 22 A Warren, 23 G Maule