Scotland v Samoa: Gregor Townsend puts faith in youthful enthusiasm to revive World Cup campaign

In the lead up to this World Cup it was said that the positions of centre and back-row were the most competitive in terms of the selection for the final 31-man squad.
Coach Gregor Townsend believes lessons have been learned from last week's shocker against Ireland. Picture: Getty ImagesCoach Gregor Townsend believes lessons have been learned from last week's shocker against Ireland. Picture: Getty Images
Coach Gregor Townsend believes lessons have been learned from last week's shocker against Ireland. Picture: Getty Images

A week ago coach Gregor Townsend picked the most experienced starting XV in Scotland international rugby history, with a combined total of 630 caps. For Monday’s make-or-break match with Samoa in Kobe that drops down to 461, with 18 shared by the two centres Sam Johnson and Chris Harris, and just 23 between the new-look back row, one of which is injury-enforced after Hamish Watson’s departure, of Magnus Bradbury, 24, Jamie Ritchie, 23, and Blade Thomson, 28.

The message seems clear from Townsend, who bemoaned a “lack of energy” in the wake of last Sunday’s abysmal 27-3 surrender to Ireland in Yokohama - some of the old stagers blew it and it’s now a chance for the young ones to strike while the flame is strong. In the context of this World Cup Pool A, which was blown apart by the sensational events in Shizuoka yesterday as Japan shocked Ireland, they will have to because, as the song continues “tomorrow sometimes never comes”.

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Darcy Graham, the 22-year-old Edinburgh wing who notched three tries in eight caps during his debut international season, is unleashed against the physical might of the Samoans, a prospect the Hawick buzzbomb is no doubt licking his lips over.

More seasoned campaigners, like Tommy Seymour and John Barclay, drop out of the matchday squad altogether.

On the latter, Townsend referenced a tight groin which had been slightly hampering the 33-year-old back-rower and former captain’s training but made it clear that he had not been considered for this match.

“If I’d chatted to everyone or most of the team and said you’re not going to play, they’d all agree they hadn’t played that well [against Ireland],” said Townsend.

“Everyone wants another opportunity and some miss out because we have someone better suited to the opposition you’re playing that week. So John realised, like a number of guys who didn’t pay at their best. Someone like John hasn’t played as many Test matches [recently, after a long injury lay-off] as others in the squad, and that was a proper Test match [against Ireland].”

Townsend also brings in the combative Harris to partner tough-tackling Johnson in the centre, and makes Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell the joint-highest starting half-back partnership for Scotland as they draw level with the legendary pairing of Roy Laidlaw (Greig’s uncle) and John Rutherford.

Asked if the reaction, not so much from the media, but the even more livid comments from the supporters back home on social media after the meek display against Ireland, had taken him aback, Townsend said: “No because I don’t read it.

“Players have said that there’s criticism and guys who have been at press conferences this week; that’s what it is, it’s out there, you play for Scotland, you don’t play well you can expect some reaction from people who care a lot for the team.

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“[On accusations they don’t care] That’s totally wrong if that’s an accusation.”

Townsend, speaking before Japan’s extraordinary toppling of Ireland, gave an insight into what his own thought processes had been in the days since Yokohama.

“I always look at what I could have done better, what the coaches could have done better,” he said. “A week ago I said we’d had the best training session we’d had in two or three years, in the wet [at Yokohama two days before the Ireland match]. It was genuine, we were buzzing at what happened.

“Sometimes, more often than not, training gets transferred into games, you train well, you see that intensity and accuracy, it’s likely that’ll be carried into the game. We didn’t see it in the warm-up as well, and that’s why I said that to you after the game, something just didn’t click in the warm-up. So first of all, how do we change that?”

Everybody knows that Samoa will bring an intensely physical challenge on Monday, with more of an all-court element than the grinding the Scottish pack took from Ireland last week.

Townsend believes the bulky centre pairing of Johnson and Harris has what it takes to both stem and hurt the Samoans in that midfield battleground.

“Sam’s an excellent tackler, he had two excellent cover tackles at the weekend,” said the coach. “He can front up against anybody. Chris Harris has impressed us with his defensive reads at training. Whenever he’s had an opportunity to do full contact, he’s put weight into tackle.

“I thought he had a good impact into the game [off the bench] in attack on Sunday. He’s earned that spot. Duncan [Taylor] brings a lot of experience and now has a role to play off the bench this week.”


15. Stuart Hogg

14. Darcy Graham

13. Chris Harris

12. Sam Johnson

11. Sean Maitland 10. Finn Russell

9. Greig Laidlaw 1. Allan Dell

2. Stuart McInally (c)

3. Willem Nel

4. Grant Gilchrist

5. Jonny Gray

6. Magnus Bradbury

7. Jamie Ritchie

8. Blade Thomson


16. Fraser Brown

17. Gordon Reid

18. Zander Fagerson

19. Scott Cummings

20. Ryan Wilson

21. George Horne

22. Adam Hastings

23. Duncan Taylor

Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water and on Twitter @CastleWaterLtdFollow Duncan Smith in Japan on Twitter @Duncan_Smith