Gregor Townsend calls on his Scotland stand-ins to seize chance in Romania clash

By Sports Desk September 28, 2023

Gregor Townsend has called on his Scotland stand-ins to seize their chance to impress against Romania on Saturday and play their way into contention for involvement in what is shaping up to be a box-office showdown with Ireland.

The head coach has made 13 changes to his starting XV for the must-win match against the Pool B minnows in Lille this weekend, preserving several big guns including Finn Russell, Duhan van der Merwe, Jack Dempsey, Zander Fagerson and Sione Tuipulotu for a Paris meeting with the Irish that is likely to decide whether the Scots progress to the quarter-finals.

Javan Sebastian – with six caps as a substitute – will make his first start for Scotland, and the recently-recruited Edinburgh prop will be joined in the XV by his new club-mates Luke Crosbie, Hamish Watson and Ben Healy, who are also getting their first game time of this World Cup.

Lock Grant Gilchrist will captain the side in the absence of Jamie Ritchie, who is still on track to return against Ireland as he progresses through his return-to-play protocols after suffering a head knock against Tonga last weekend.

Townsend said that this weekend’s match is “absolutely” an opportunity for players to secure a spot in the 23 for the Ireland match.

“It’s hard when you’re training to show what you can do at the World Cup,” he said. “We put a lot on what players have done for us in the past and players have been training well, so we know they are in really good physical shape.

“But the best way to influence selection is to play well. The performance against Tonga was an improvement on South Africa and we’re looking to get better than we were against Tonga. This group have the opportunity to do that now.

“Saturday will be hugely influential. We’ve gone with a similar team now for four or five games. There have been one or two changes here or there, but within that the core of that group have played since the France home game (in early August).

“But the other players have an opportunity and they know this is the final opportunity they will get before we play Ireland.

“The decisions before South Africa, before Tonga, and going back to before the France home and away games, were tight already in a few positions, so if players play well it will be a much longer selection meeting on Monday night, I’m sure.”

Townsend feels Wales-born prop Sebastian, 29, has earned his first start after making a big impact on the squad since his debut two years ago.

“I think he’s probably been our most improved player throughout our summer camp,” said the head coach. “He’s worked really hard to get himself in a position where he can contribute physically outside of the scrum and he’s shown that in training.

“He’s actually won ‘trainer of the week’, or ‘mav (maverick) of the week’ as we call it. That’s something that’s voted for by the players and they’ve been really impressed by what he’s done in training.

“I felt the way he played against France in Saint-Etienne (as a replacement in August), both in the tight and the loose, showed that he was a player that’s got skills and can move well. He’s a very good rugby player. But the most important thing is his fitness. He’s the fittest he’s ever been.”

Romania have been annihilated in their first two pool games, losing 76-0 to Ireland and 82-8 against South Africa. Townsend is unfazed by the expectation on his side from outside the camp to deliver a similarly emphatic win.

“There’s always pressure or expectation when you play for Scotland,” he said. “You know you’re going to have to play your best rugby, that’s what that jersey demands of you.

“It will be a different game to what most of these players are used to. It’s not a Six Nations game and there will be a different way of defending.

“Sometimes we will have a lot of ball, and sometimes we will make mistakes because it’s the first time this team has gone out together, so the important thing is focusing on each moment and us playing as a team, and doing the work off the ball. Get that bit right and our game should flow much more on the back of that.”

Townsend revealed he has had discussions with World Rugby since his strong condemnation of the decision not to show a red card to Tonga’s Afusipa Taumoepeau for a dangerous high tackle on Ritchie last Sunday, a fortnight after he had been similarly critical of the decision not to send off South Africa’s Jesse Kriel for head-on-head contact with Dempsey.

“Yes, and I’m happy with the feedback process,” he said. “Obviously, I was very frustrated and disappointed with the actions at the time, and it wasn’t the only time I’ve experienced that in this World Cup, but you’ve got to move on from it.

“We’ve spoken to the officials of World Rugby around it and those are private discussions.”

Related items

  • Six uncapped players make England squad for Japan, New Zealand Tests Six uncapped players make England squad for Japan, New Zealand Tests

    England coach Steve Borthwick has named six uncapped players in his squad for their summer internationals against Japan and New Zealand. 

    England face Japan in Tokyo on June 21 in their first outing since the Six Nations, then take on the All Blacks on July 6 and July 13.

    Harlequins prop Fin Baxter and centre Luke Northmore, Sale pair Joe Carpenter and Tom Roebuck, Bristol's Gabriel Oghre and Northampton's Ollie Sleightholme are all included.

    Having named a 36-man squad, England will train at Twickenham on Tuesday before flying out to Japan to prepare for their opening Test.

    "The Summer Series presents a valuable opportunity for the continued development of this squad and is a demanding challenge to conclude the season," Borthwick said.

    "The National Stadium in Tokyo is an incredible venue for Test match rugby, and we will need to be at our very best against a Japanese team who will want to play fast.

    "New Zealand's home record is well documented, and we face a team who came within one point of winning a World Cup.

    "The players know that they will need to be mentally strong and tactically smart if we are to get the result we want."

    Full England squad: Fin Baxter, Dan Cole, Alex Coles, Chandler Cunningham-South, Ben Curry, Tom Curry, Theo Dan, Alex Dombrandt, Ben Earl, Charlie Ewels, Jamie George (c), Joe Heyes, Maro Itoje, Joe Marler, George Martin, Gabriel Oghre, Bevan Rodd, Ethan Roots, Will Stuart, Sam Underhill, Joe Carpenter, Fraser Dingwall, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Tommy Freeman, George Furbank, Ollie Lawrence, Alex Mitchell, Luke Northmore, Harry Randall, Tom Roebuck, Henry Slade, Ollie Sleightholme, Fin Smith, Marcus Smith, Ben Spencer, Freddie Steward.

  • All Blacks captain Cane to retire from international rugby All Blacks captain Cane to retire from international rugby

    New Zealand captain Sam Cane has announced he will retire from international rugby at the end of 2024, having agreed a three-year contract with Japan Rugby League One team Tokyo Sungoliath.

    Cane made his All Blacks debut in 2012 and has represented his country 95 times, including through the team's triumphant run at the 2015 World Cup.

    The flanker succeeded Kieran Read as captain in 2020, though his most recent international outing ended with him suffering the ignominy of becoming the first man to be sent off in a Rugby World Cup final, as New Zealand were beaten by South Africa last year.

    Cane will be eligible to represent the All Blacks through the second half of 2024 after returning from an initial spell in Japan but will then head there permanently after New Zealand Rugby agreed to release him from his contract. 

    "A good opportunity came my way with Sungoliath willing to offer me a three-year contract," Cane said. "I had to weigh up everything and, in the end, with a young family it seemed like the best decision to help set us up for our future.

    "I had my time as captain and it was a huge honour and privilege. If I'm fortunate enough to be selected for the All Blacks this year then I'll still be myself. 

    "I love that team, and if part of my role is contributing leadership-wise, I'll be happy to support the new captain as best I can to help with a speedy transition."

  • Rees-Zammit relishing Mahomes advice as former rugby star eyes spot on Chiefs roster Rees-Zammit relishing Mahomes advice as former rugby star eyes spot on Chiefs roster

    Louis Rees-Zammit has likened Patrick Mahomes to an extra coach as he looks to make an impact in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Rees-Zammit shocked rugby union fans in January when he announced he was turning his back on the sport to enter the NFL's International Player Pathway programme. 

    He was signed by two-time defending Super Bowl champions Kansas City in March and is now looking to earn a place on their roster for 2024, learning the role of running back at the Chiefs' rookie minicamp after attending another training camp alongside Mahomes. 

    Rees-Zammit has made sure to pick the brains of Mahomes, who has led the Chiefs to six straight AFC Championship games and won three Super Bowl rings since being drafted in 2017.

    "It was amazing, all the quarterbacks and receivers were there, we were running routes, we were working in the gym", Rees-Zammit said of his experience at that camp in Texas.

    "It was a great two weeks, I definitely learned a lot with Pat and the other boys."

    Asked if Mahomes was acting like an extra coach, he said: "100 per cent. 

    "I'm new to the game so I'm trying to pick everyone's brains and try and pick up the sport as quick as possible because I want to be out there playing.

    "The way I can do that is picking the brains of everyone that's currently here and trying to learn the game as quickly as possible."

    Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has been impressed by Rees-Zammit's attitude, saying: "He's so diligent with everything and wants to be so good at everything. I appreciate that. 

    "I like the fact he's got shorter steps initially, that's a good thing as a running back. If you're a long strider in there you've got to really work on making it through those tight adjustments you have to make. He seems to have a nice feel."
     

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.