Scotland coach Gregor Townsend insisted he had read none of the scathing criticism aimed at his side after Saturday’s thumping by France in Nice and declared there will be improvement against the same opponents in Saturday’s second world cup warm-up Test at BT Murrayfield.
Townsend has made 14 changes to the team that started the 32-3 rout by the French, with full-back Stuart Hogg the only survivor, and claimed that the torrent of flak for that dismal display from the media and Scotland supporters had gone unnoticed.
“I haven’t really seen the reaction, so in terms of our reaction, there’s a disappointment and determination that we’ll do better,” said Townsend.
The coach has handed a first cap to Scarlets No 8 Blade Thomson and reunited experienced French-based half-backs Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, who will be captain.
The 24-year-old Glasgow hooker Grant Stewart is in line for a first cap off the bench.
Townsend admitted there had been plenty of self-criticism after preparations for Japan took a knock. He said: “As coaches we look first of all at ourselves and how we got the players in a situation where we weren’t delivering our best performance.
“Attack and defence were disappointing at the weekend. I’m the head coach and I’m in charge of attack, so the responsibility lies with me. I know that [defence coach] Matt [Taylor] is disappointed with how defended. We’ve put a big emphasis on our defence over the last couple of months and we’ve seen big improvements in training. We just didn’t get the transfer into the game.”
John Barclay is in line to win his 73rd cap off the bench a week after he was the victim of a reckless charge by France lock Paul Gabrillagues, who was subsequently banned for six weeks.
Barclay has recovered well and Townsend revealed that the initial plan to leave the flanker and Hogg out this weekend was revised when they both pleaded to be given another run-out.
“Initially John wasn’t going to play this week. So it was very similar to Stuart Hogg [who suffered cramp in the second half in Nice],” said Townsend. “John went off earlier than we expected him to. Both him and Stuart were already saying to me straight after the game ‘we’d love to play next week’ and we had to wait and see if both of them were fully fit.
“Both trained yesterday, they weren’t really meant to do contact but both got stuck in and John has recovered really well from what was a pretty nasty knock to the head.”
Lock Jonny Gray is not involved again this weekend and Townsend explained: “He had a hamstring tweak at training last week but he’s back to running now. That is a bonus. We will see if he can get up to 100 per cent by the end of the week and see if he is an option in Georgia.”