Scotland play Fiji on Saturday following their 21-10 defeat by Wales, and the praise Townsend heaped on the island side seemed to spring from a genuine admiration for what they do rather than the result of any psychological games the coach was playing.
“I believe they are becoming a major threat,” said Townsend of next weekend’s Murrayfield opposition. “I really believe – and I hope it’s not in the next couple of weeks – that they can beat any team in the world on their day.
“They could have a brilliant World Cup. I see them as similar to Brazilian football. They have the best natural rugby players.”
We are used to thinking of Fiji’s strength lying in their back division but the likes of 130kgs winger Nemani Naholo won’t be involved because the Montpellier man is currently injured. Bordeaux’s Semi Radradra and Josua Tuisova of Toulon are both class acts who will crush anyone would-be tackler who doesn’t get their technique spot on but, perhaps for the first time in their history, Fiji can boast several world-class forwards.
Racing’s Leone Nakarawa is a known quantity from his time spent in Glasgow, and Edinburgh fans understand the danger posed by No 8 Viliame Mata with the ball in hand. Townsend, however, insisted there were others.
“We know that Leone Nakawara was voted the best player in Europe last year,” said the coach. “Peceli Yato, they just call him Yato I think, is a back row at Clermont and must be one of the best back-row forwards in the world.
“And then the back line are all outstanding. I don’t think Niko [Matawalu] is in the squad and he scored three tries on Friday night, which shows you what kind of strength they have.
“They’ve got really good coaches as well. John McKee is their head coach and some of their other coaches have worked for Super Rugby teams so they will be very organised. We can’t take them lightly. It’s a huge challenge.”
But the Fijians were not the only source of worry for Townsend who has had to contend with unwanted injury problems, notably to Scarlets No 8 Blade Thomson who was stretchered off in a neck brace during Friday night’s game against Edinburgh. It turns out the Kiwi’s neck is fine but he did suffer what looked like a serious concussion which puts a question mark over his participation in this autumn series.
from the off that he hoped no player would have to start all four Tests, but he was already rowing back from that stance on Saturday evening.
“Things happen,” said Townsend. “Blade Thomson picked up an injury on Friday night and we have two players playing on Sunday. It is a moving feast in terms of what you would love to do when
everyone is fit.
“Whether players can go through three or four games in a row is always in our thinking but they might have to as we have picked up a few injuries in the last two weeks.”
The good news for Townsend is that Finn Russell emerged unscathed from Racing’s Top14 victory in Montpellier yesterday. The Scottish No 10 enjoyed a good shift.
He had a hand in Racing’s first and last tries and he kicked well off the tee, but was also charged down in the first half, a mistake that led to a yellow card and two Montpellier tries during the powerplay.