Scotland coach Gregor Townsend mixes youth and experience

Nick Grigg tries to dodge his team-mates during a game of tag at Scotland training in Resistencia. Picture: �Fotosport/David Gibson
Nick Grigg tries to dodge his team-mates during a game of tag at Scotland training in Resistencia. Picture: �Fotosport/David Gibson
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There is a carefully calculated
combination of callowness and experience in the Scotland team to play Argentina in Resistencia tomorrow.

The pack provides the experience, with tour captain Stuart McInally playing for the first time and fellow hooker Fraser Brown slotting in at seven, while there is a rawness about the backs, with George Horne and Adam Hastings, below, continuing together at half-back.

In all, there are seven changes of personnel in the pack from the line-up that began last weekend’s defeat by the USA, with the only survivor, Tim Swinson, reverting to the second row after playing at blindside in Houston.

In the backs, conversely,
there is only one change, with Dougie Fife coming in on the right wing for Byron McGuigan.

If there is a risk in the selection for the toughest match of the tour, it is one which head coach Gregor Townsend feels is well worth the taking. The squad, Townsend included, are eager to end on a winning note but, with the Rugby World Cup only a year away, an element of adventure is required. Hence, to give one example, the reselection of Hastings, where choosing Peter Horne at 10 would have been a safer play.

Townsend said: “We knew we’d have a choice to make on stand-off – we don’t have Finn Russell on tour.

“We did have an option to move Peter Horne, but the Duncan Taylor injury influenced our decision. Even if Duncan had been here, and Alex Dunbar, who was injured prior to going on tour, we probably would have still gone with Peter [at inside centre] to help someone who hadn’t played much at 10 this season, whether that was Ruaridh [Jackson] or Adam…

The head coach added: “Adam grabbed his opportunity against Canada and did some really good things against America. Yes there are going to be mistakes, yes there will be times when he can’t influence the game, especially when we’ve given away a couple of penalties and are defending lineout drives in 
our own 22.

“We really thought he looked good. He tackled well up against a very physical American midfield, got up very well and worked really hard.

“He got so much learning out of that game, [asking himself] ‘what could I have done better there, decision-wise, communication-wise’.

“We feel it’s really important for his development, and our development as a team, to give him another opportunity in an even bigger game.”

The key question regarding Hastings, George Horne and quite a few other young players is how much they can develop before the World Cup. Whatever happens tomorrow, Townsend accepts that much will depend on what happens at Glasgow and Edinburgh next season.

“Ruaridh and Pete are available 10s for Glasgow next season so, from our perspective, the player who plays the most is obviously likely to have impressed the coaches at training, grabbed their opportunity in games and they’ll have more opportunity of being available to us at 10.

“We know Pete is an excellent 12 and has played 10 very well for us. He’s always going to be in the mix if he’s fit, in terms of what he brings, his workrate, his experience, his multi-faceted game, whether it’s at 10 with his ability to run pass and kick, or at centre, with his ability to do that one pass out.

“We hope that, with Adam and Ruaridh, the experiences they’ve had on this tour, will give them a boost going into next season and they can go out and grab the opportunity.”

While the Pumas will be testing opponents on the pitch, Scotland’s success or failure may be determined by how well they have coped psychologically with being out of their comfort zone this week. Any non-English-speaking country provides a challenge, but this small northern city is also notably bereft of many of the facilities which make life easier back home. Some similar problems will be encountered in Japan at the World Cup, and Townsend will carefully monitor how well his players cope.

“There is the week building up in a place where you might not have first-world facilities and have to spend more time together and find ways of keeping enjoyment and interest up,” he said when asked about the particular difficulties. “This will happen in Japan, there will be a couple of places where there won’t be many English speakers, there won’t be the coffee houses next door.

“You’ll be away for six or seven weeks and be missing the home comforts and the people back at home. This is a good tour and a good test. This is the end of five or six weeks together at the end of an 11-month season, and we’re the furthest away from home.”