Iain Morrison: Five Scotland problems for Gregor Townsend to solve

Magnus Bradbury has the credentials to be considered for a back-row place. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Magnus Bradbury has the credentials to be considered for a back-row place. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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1 A back-up stand-off for the 
erratic Finn Russell

This is the big one. Gregor Townsend knows what Peter Horne brings but also knows that the Glasgow man doesn’t challenge defences or play anything like as flat as Russell or Adam Hastings. The latter must grab his chance after getting few enough with Glasgow Warriors during the club season. Modest opposition should ease his entry into Test match rugby and if Hastings starts against Argentina in the third game he will have done something right.

2 A big bruiser in the back row who can challenge the defensive line

With Ryan Wilson, John Barclay and Hamish Watson in the back row Townsend is effectively playing three openside flankers and while all can carry, none of them is a specialist. Like Game of Thrones, rugby is essentially all about the application of power and Scotland are short of it. David Denton is the obvious choice but Magnus Bradbury may have something to say about that.

3 A new forwards coach to replace Dan McFarland

Townsend was close to the old one. He sacked one of his best buddies to make space for Dan McFarland at Glasgow and he may feel let down by the English Irishman 
who followed him into the 
Scotland set-up but is now quitting to become head coach at Ulster. For this tour, Townsend has whistled up Carl Hogg who has oodles of experience and, as a nephew of Jim Telfer, errs towards the “old school” which may be no bad thing. Like Hastings, Hogg needs to nail this opportunity.

4 Game time for Allan Dell 
and Duncan Taylor

Both men played a pivotal role in Scotland’s success in the past but have scarcely been seen this season due to injury woes. Provided he can hold up the scrum Dell, pictured, is the model modern loosehead, essentially an extra flanker on the field, and Taylor is crucial to Scotland’s backline success both in attack and defence. Townsend needs both men fit and firing.

5 A game plan that marries 
pace, precision and pragmatism

Scotland’s last outing, against Italy in Rome, was a horror show. They won but it took a last-gasp penalty by Greig Laidlaw. Townsend’s all-action game plan can unravel quickly, and looks terrible when it does, so he needs accuracy from his players while playing at tempo. However, Scotland’s biggest game next year is against Japan in that World Cup pool and the coach won’t want to get suckered into playing at the Cherry Blossoms’ pace, especially in that heat and humidity. Scotland need to balance Townsend’s high-tempo rugby with hard-nosed pragmatism.