'Much more to come' - Gregor Townsend warns Scotland to start better against France

Gregor Townsend believes there is more to come from his Scotland team as they head to France chasing a third consecutive victory in this season’s Guinness Six Nations.

Having taken a maximum 10 points from their opening two games there is a growing belief that Scotland can mount a genuine title challenge for the first time in the Six Nations era. But Townsend has warned that they must start better in Paris than they did against England and Wales. “We were tough on the players going into the Wales week, and quite rightly, because we hadn’t backed up that opening performance in previous years,” said Townsend, referring to Scotland's inability to win their first two games in the championship before this season. “But we feel there is much more to come from this group. We felt that way before the Wales game and we feel the same this week. I think the players realise just how big of a test this is going to be. We’re playing one of the best teams in the world on their own patch, and in a venue where we haven’t had much success over the last 100 years.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge – but we can match that challenge. We can improve from the Wales game. The players can drive that. Going into a game like this on the back of two wins is a much better feeling than if you had a couple of defeats. Every game feels massive. It’s exciting going to Paris when we’re in the mix for the tournament. But there’s only been two games played. We know we have to improve again this week to still be in the mix going into the last two games.”

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Scotland’s record 35-7 win over Wales was founded on a superb second-half performance. They also played better after the interval against England at Twickenham. Townsend believes they won’t get away with a sluggish start against the champions and has stressed the importance of different combinations gelling quickly. “You see those relationships building in games,” said Townsend. “Maybe we haven’t started games the way we’d like, but it’s more accuracy than effort. I’m not sure we’ll get away with that if we do that this week. We have to be right on it at the beginning.”

Scotland’s last championship triumph came in 1999, in the final season of the Five Nations, when Townsend was at stand-off and scored a try in every match. The coach was reluctant to be drawn on the current squad’s potential to emulate the team of 24 years ago but does believe they can still improve. “We’ve still not delivered close to what we feel we are capable of,” he said. “There’s been great moments, great team play, great individual plays. The spirit of taking the game to the opposition, the togetherness is on show, but there are areas we can be better and that’s what we’ve been working on this week.”

The head coach has brought Hamish Watson back for the game on Sunday. The flanker comes into the side in place of his Edinburgh team-mate Luke Crosbie in the only change to the starting XV which beat Wales. Stuart Hogg, who suffered a head injury early on against the Welsh, is fit to play and will win his 99th Scotland cap. Ali Price has been picked as replacement scrum-half ahead of George Horne and there is also a place on the bench for Sam Skinner, with Townsend opting for an extra forward. Chris Harris drops out.

Scotland team (v France, Guinness Six Nations, Sunday, Stade de France, 3pm GMT):

15. Stuart Hogg; 14. Kyle Steyn, 13. Huw Jones, 12. Sione Tuipulotu, 11. Duhan van der Merwe; 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ben White; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Richie Gray, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie (capt), 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Matt Fagerson.

Replacements: 16. Fraser Brown, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. WP Nel, 19. Jonny Gray, 20. Sam Skinner, 21. Jack Dempsey, 22. Ali Price, 23. Blair Kinghorn.



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