Scotland Rugby World Cup: Gregor Townsend hails 'massively important' trio as leadership group named
The head coach has praised his leadership group ahead of the eagerly awaited match in Marseille on Sunday. Townsend named his team on Friday and there were no big surprises in the starting side which will be captained by Ritchie. Russell has been in fine form in the build up to the tournament and will attempt to open up the Springboks defence, while Gilchrist is one of the most experienced players in the squad and a key lineout operator for Scotland. Both are playing in their third World Cups.
“They are massively important,” said Townsend. “That trio have been working very well together for a while now. Finn leads our attack and brings more than just attack leadership. He brings his experience, how to stay calm and clear and Grant brings the lineout experience and the emotional side. He is a driver of that for us.
“Jamie leans on them, uses them, relies on them to help his captaincy but the leadership is not a one or a three, it is everybody in the group being a leader at the right time being a leader for the team. As a coaching group we have been pleased at how the leadership has grown and the team has evolved as a group. It is a group that does not panic when things are going against them, they stay strong and listen and stay focused and learn from things that have happened in the game and training.”
Facing the world champions in the first match is the toughest possible start for Scotland who will also face Ireland, the No 1-ranked team, in Pool B, along with Tonga and Romania. South Africa are peaking at the right time having inflicted a record 35-7 defeat on New Zealand in their final warm-up game and Townsend has no doubts about their tournament pedigree and believes they have developed their game, adding more flair to their traditional physicality.
“They are a very good World Cup team,” said the coach. “They are a very good side between World Cups. They have done well in World Cups and are defending champions and will want to start like defending champions and bring their best game in the opener.
“It will be a game of mix, with power and pace. Maybe two years ago you would say South Africa was all power but they have added different parts to their game. They are moving the game more now and are not kicking as much as they used to. That brings challenges to our defence and opportunities for us to get the ball back. If we can play our game, a game we believe can threaten them in defence, but we must make sure that we bring our own power to the various contacts we get in the game, scrum, lineout maul, tackle and ruck clear. I believe it will be a brilliant game with two teams that are in form and desperate to get out of this pool.”
Zander Fagerson is back in the Scotland team after serving a two-match ban and Darcy Graham also returns after recovering from a quad strain. Townsend has opted for a 5-3 split of forwards and backs on the bench where there is no place for Kyle Steyn.
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