Last weekend’s 29-23 win over England at Twickenham was a masterclass in attacking efficiency, with the Scots scoring four tries despite spending just one minute and 44 seconds in the opposition 22. While England enjoyed the lion’s share of territory and possession, the visitors made the most of their chances.
Potential change in the front row
Scotland have reported no fresh injury concerns ahead of this Saturday’s home match against Wales, and Townsend’s options have been strengthened by the availability of Zander Fagerson. The tighthead prop has not played since limping out of Glasgow Warriors’ away win over Zebre on December 3 with a torn hamstring. Fagerson is fully recovered and Pieter de Villiers, the Scotland scrum coach, believes the player can step straight back in at Test level. The question for Townsend is whether to bring him back or stick with WP Nel at tighthead. The latter delivered an impressively solid performance at Twickenham. Scotland conceded a couple of scrum penalties, one more than England, but there was little between the sides at the set-piece.
Fagerson has been Townsend’s go-to tighthead, starting 16 of 17 Tests before Twickenham. Interestingly, the one game he began on the bench was last season’s match against Wales in Cardiff. Twelve months earlier, in the 2021 Six Nations game, Fagerson had been sent off against Wales at Murrayfield for a dangerous clearout which led to him being banned. Townsend may feel that Nel, at 36, would benefit from a reduced role this weekend and could be on the bench at the expense of Simon Bergham, with Fagerson starting the match.
The return of Hamish Watson
The other long-term absentee from the Scotland pack is Hamish Watson who has not played since suffering a concussion injury against New Zealand on November 13. Luke Crosbie came in at openside flanker against England but Watson has been declared fit for this weekend. Again, Townsend must decide whether he can come straight back in for a Test match. Crosbie tackled hard against England and provides more height in the lineout than Watson but the latter has been one of Scotland’s top performers in recent years and was Six Nations Player of the Championship in 2021. Jack Dempsey, who did well when he replaced Crosbie in the second half at Twickenham, offers another back-row option.
Backing for the backline
All four Scotland tries against England were scored by the backs and it’s hard to make a case for change. Townsend noted that Stuart Hogg’s heel was causing him bother when he was replaced by Blair Kinghorn in the second half but there is no suggestion the Exeter full-back won’t be fit to start against Wales. Huw Jones, at outside centre, and Ben White, at scrum-half, were the two surprise inclusions against England, with Chris Harris and Ali Price making way. Jones and White both excelled, each scoring a try, and it would be a major surprise if either dropped out.