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Townsend facing tough questions ahead of Rugby World Cup opener

Townsend facing tough questions ahead of Rugby World Cup opener

Townsend facing tough questions ahead of Rugby World Cup opener

Scotland’s second-half turnaround against Georgia has presented Gregor Townsend with fresh selection headaches ahead of his side’s Rugby World Cup opener.

In their final match before their seismic showdown with South Africa in a fortnight’s time, Scotland overturned a half-time deficit to beat the Lelos 33-6 at Scottish Gas Murrayfield.

The hosts had begun to turn the tide before the cavalry arrived, but their impact was immediate and impressive, ensuring Scotland finished the Summer Nations Series with a perfect home record.

Focus now turns to France and Townsend knows his bench will have to be just as effective if they are to advance ahead of reigning champions the Springboks, or world number one side Ireland.

Asked if he is certain on his team for South Africa, Townsend said: “It’s probably not set in stone. We’ll have a good look at that game again in depth.

“I’m more clear on the 15 than the 23, and I know there are players who have put their hand today to come into the mix, whether in the 15 or more likely the bench.

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“That’s been a really positive outcome of these four games – our bench has played really well, and we’ve finished every game stronger than our opposition.

“That’s a credit to the fitness of the squad and what they’ve done during the campaign, but also the eight guys making a difference in the last 20 minutes of games and they certainly did that today.”

Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie cracked his cheekbone when these sides met in the final game before the 2019 Rugby World Cup, but no new injury concerns arose this time round.

Wing Darcy Graham was withdrawn from the starting XV on Friday and was replaced on the right touchline by Kyle Steyn, who had also been struggling earlier in the week.

Steyn put the seal on the victory with Scotland’s fifth try but Townsend is confident Graham will be fit enough to feature in the World Cup opener, with the pair set to go head-to-head for the 14 shirt.

“We’re aiming for Thursday with Darcy,” said Townsend. “If he’s not able to train Thursday, it will be the following Monday in France.

“I’m really pleased that Kyle got through today’s game because he actually was one that went off injured on Tuesday – along with Darcy – but recovered well enough to train Thursday. He got a whack on his knee, too, but it looks like that’s fine.

“There’s a couple of what you might call normal Test match niggles, nothing more serious than that, which is great.

“I’m sure it wasn’t in the front of players’ minds, but they will have seen last night and a couple of injuries in that New Zealand versus South Africa game, and a couple of players in the England squad getting injured last week, so it is a tricky fixture.”

Scotland failed to advance past the pool stages in Townsend’s first World Cup as head coach four years ago after a shock defeat to Japan in the final group fixture.

A difficult draw, which sees Tonga and Romania complete the Pool B line-up, makes things tougher still this time but Townsend believes his side’s preparations have put them in an excellent position.

“Working with the group for a longer period and seeing how well they’re training and seeing the collaboration and connection has been really enjoyable, but that’s obviously not what we’re here for,” Townsend concluded.

“We’re here for the players playing close to their potential and winning for Scotland, and we got very close to having four wins and close to playing some rugby which excites our supporters and is a real threat to any team we are up against – but we know we still have improvements to make.

“Some players were playing their second game of the season, others were playing their third game, so we know we’ll get better with more minutes on the field and we’ll be better again for today’s experience.”

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