Scotland coach Gregor Townsend believes the players who have been selected to face Russia in Shizuoka tomorrow will have a mindset to do what is necessary for the cause of the team, namely win well with a bonus point, rather than look to make personal statements ahead of the potentially decisive showdown against Japan on Sunday.
There are 14 changes from the team that defeated Samoa 34-0 in Kobe last Monday, with only 22-year-old wing Darcy Graham retained in the starting XV.
Hooker Fraser Brown will start in the openside flanker position of his younger days before his conversion to front row, wearing the No 7 Scotland jersey for only the second time after he did so in Argentina last summer, with the experienced pair of John Barclay and Ryan Wilson completing the back row. Both Jamie Ritchie and Magnus Bradbury, who starred against Samoa are on the bench alongside captain Stuart McInally, with George Turner the starting hooker.
Lock Ben Toolis, full-back Blair Kinghorn and centre Pete Horne join Turner in getting a first taste of this World Cup, while scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is on the bench as the younger Horne brother, George, partners Adam Hastings at half-back.
On the player who have come in, Townsend said: “They have got to grab their opportunity by first of all helping the team to win. This will be a huge team effort and squad effort for the players on the bench as well.
“Russia will be a tough team to break down. Then, as individuals [they need] to play close to their best to push those they are competing with for us to believe they can back it up and play on Sunday.
“We have a squad of 31 so only eight of the players are not involved on Wednesday. Opportunities may come along for players who start on Wednesday to start on Sunday.”
On Brown starting as a wing forward, Townsend said: “Knowing when Fraser was in the squad that he can cover openside was a bonus but we obviously had Hamish [Watson] so the chances of Fraser starting at opesnside might not have been great.
“Having Fraser on bench for Ireland game, knowing he can cover seven almost gives us an extra forward on the bench, which is what happened that night when he came on at seven [when Watson suffered a tournament-ending knee injury] and later Blade Thomson came on for John Barclay.
“He [Brown] is equally adept at playing seven and hooker. The positions are very similar now in defence, either at tail of lineout or as last man. Hookers now have to be as effective in the loose and ball-carrying as back rows. Maybe some hookers might enjoy the fact they won’t have to throw in or scrum that much in a game.”
Townsend does think that his players are capable of playing a good chunk of both matches if called upon.
“Yes. Some of our training sessions can be very tough two or three days after we play a game,” said the coach. “We are always delighted by players’ response after a tough game to train really well on a Monday and Tuesday. And this is a World Cup so there’s no Wednesday game the following week. There is a week’s rest before the quarter-finals.
“If players are asked or given the the opportunity to play again on Sunday I’m sure they will deliver. But if you make it about an individual playing for a chance to play on Sunday that’s not really what we want them thinking about.
“We want them thinking about their role as an individual in executing what we believe will be the right gameplan to win, but also helping the team win.”
Townsend, who reported that loosehead Allan Dell, who isn’t in the matchday 23 for Russia, has come through his concussion return to play protocols and is now back to full fitness, and insisted he was comfortable going with a bench that is a 6-2 split in favour of forwards over backs.
“It’s really the make-up with the squad that we can be more flexible with our forwards, with Fraser going to No 7 to share the load over the next few days.
“There may be some strategies you will see with the subs coming on at different times in the game so we do share that load, as long as the team is delivering and we are moving towards a good win. That’s the thinking behind that.
“Some forwards quite fancy themselves as backs and might want ot move into the backline later on” I see Russia have also selected a 6-2 split so they are in the same situation as us if they pick up injuries.”
On the one man from the 34-0 win over Samoa to start once again, Townsend said of Graham: “I hope he goes looking for ball and looking for as much involvement in defence and dealing with the Russian kicks.
“Russia have an excellent kicking game. For the backs it might be a lot of dealing with kicks and making the most of opportunities that come off the back of that. We want to work hard to create width in our play so Tommy [Seymour], Darcy and Blair are excellent guys to have in the back three to make the most of that.”
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