Press conference - Gregor Townsend
Head Coach Gregor Townsend discusses team selection for - and the status of - Scotland’s final Guinness Six Nations clash against Wales at yesterday's pre-departure press conference in Edinburgh.
There have been three changes to the team, can you talk through them?
“Nick Haining was struggling after the weekend with an illness and, given the six-day turnaround, we felt that it was better to go with Magnus [Bradbury] and Matt Fagerson who are 100% fit and fresh.
“It’s tough for Nick, he may recover in time for the game at the weekend but he’s done really well in this Six Nations and added real depth to our back-row.
“Obviously we played on Sunday – it was a demanding game – and we’re managing the team as best as we can this week. Knowing Matt, who came off the bench against Italy, and Magnus, who has started a couple of games for us this year, are raring to go – it’s Nick who misses out.”
Do you think the Wales game should go ahead with the situation we are seeing across Europe at the moment?
“We are obviously at the behest of the policy makers and so far things have been put in place and will go ahead.
“We have followed procedures and protocols regarding contact and washing hands and we saw at the weekend what a fantastic spectacle that was and how great the Six Nations is, so we hope we get to play this weekend.
“We understand if that’s not the case then it’s for serious reasons.”
Should sport be secondary to the health care of everyone?
“Yes, and it will be when those decisions are made.
“I think everybody who is involved in sport will know that if it’s time to either not play the games or to play the games behind closed doors and that’s what we’ll follow.
“Up until then as a coach and as players, you have got to prepare to play a massive game at the weekend.”
Are there any players showing concerns about playing games?
“No, not at all, we’ve been getting updated regularly on the situation.
“Obviously we played in Italy before the outbreak really set hold and games and other sporting events started getting called off there.
“Since then it was a build up to the France game and what, as an organisation, we had to do to put on that game. I’m sure the same is happening in Wales just now, so we’ll wait and see if that changes in the next two days.”
If the option is there to play the game but without a crowd, is that one you would be in favour of?
“I think my opinion is irrelevant on that. It’s whether the organisers – Welsh Rugby Union – decide if that’s the way they want to go. We will just prepare as if we’re playing in front of a full house at a very difficult and iconic venue and, if anything changes, we have to adapt.”
If you were get a win and sit at the top of the table for however long, how would you feel about that opportunity?
“It is what it is. It’s not unique. In 2001 we ended up playing Ireland in September – they had three games they weren’t able to play, so more than they’re facing this time round. They got those games played.
“We had a good win against Ireland in the September in the sunshine and I’m sure if our games were called off then they would go ahead at some point next season.”
Is this a huge opportunity for Scotland this weekend after their strong performance against France?
“Yes, it’s another game and a quick turn around so you can’t think too much about the game that has just been played.
“We’re moving quickly onto our opposition, who is looking to bounce back after their defeat at the weekend.
“They are the Six Nations champions, they came very close to making a World Cup final and the players who were involved in that Six Nations championship and the World Cup semi-final are still in their team.
“They’re a very experienced team, a very proud nation and have an excellent record against us, so this is a huge challenge – the biggest challenge we face this year – against a team who will be desperate to do well.”
Are Scotland still underdogs?
“I would have thought so. We rank below them [Wales] in world rankings, we’ve not won there for a long time but that’s for you guys [media] and the bookies to decide.”
What is your opinion on Stuart McInally coming back after a disappointing World Cup?
“I think we were all disappointed with the World Cup, so I’ve been encouraged and pleased to see the reaction of everyone, and that’s not just in this campaign it’s also what they’ve done within their clubs.
“Stuart and Jonny Gray got the longest rests after the World Cup and I think it has done Stuart a lot of good to come back and be fresh.
“He did recover from a rib injury just before the Six Nations. I thought with the opportunities he’s had he has brought pace, experience and having him and Fraser working as vice-captains, it’s something that has been a real positive in this championship.
“Given that our full-back is captain, having someone who’s closer to the action and speaking more regularly with the referees, it’s something that can help the game flow better for us.”
Is it beneficial for both Fraser and Stuart playing at such a high level as it gives you a choice?
“Yes, it’s really good, they bring the best out of each other. They’ve got slightly different strengths and experience.
“The fact they can carry and defend and are very good set-piece hookers means we’re going to be strong no matter which one plays. Fraser gets a well-earned rest. He became a dad yesterday (Thursday) so he has spent the last couple of days looking after his wife but he’s desperate to play as well.
“The players really want to carry on the good work we’ve been doing but also go to a place none of them have won and play our best game of the season. That’s what we’ll need to beat Wales on Saturday.”
How much has the defence been a focus for you?
“We did have more of a focus on defence after the Six Nations [last year]. We knew our performance wasn’t reflective of what we are capable of and we had more of that focus during the summer and into the World Cup.
“We had some really good defensive performances at times during that period; we had two games with zero points against us. This year the players – with Steve Tandy’s input – have taken it up another level and we again have to be even better this weekend.
“We’re playing a Welsh team which is much more varied in their attack than previous seasons. They will move the ball and, given their home crowd, we can expect them to have lots of energy and test our defence.
“So far, we have shown that whatever other teams throw against us, we’ve adapted well.”