Scotland v Samoa: Gregor Townsend excited by the "buzz" Darcy Graham can bring to Scots' game
Head coach Gregor Townsend insists negativity has given way to excitement after he made five changes in the team named to face Samoa in Monday’s win-or-bust Pool A match.
Townsend has dropped experienced players like John Barclay and Tommy Seymour from the squad altogether and promoted Darcy Graham and Chris Harris from the bench, while selecting an entirely new-look back row of Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Blade Thomson.
Following the crushing disappointment of that opening 27-3 defeat by Ireland in Yokohama, Townsend said in Kobe today: “You always get a sense of negativity after a defeat or a performance where you don’t play anywhere near your best, but there is also a sense that you can’t wait for the next game.”
Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell will equal the Scotland starting half-back partnership record with the legendary pairing of Roy Laidlaw (Greig’s uncle) and John Rutherford.
Edinburgh’s 22-year-old wing Darcy Graham gets a chance from the start as he wins his ninth cap.
“Everytime he's played for Scotland he's taken the game to the opposition,” Townsend said of the Hawick youngster who already has five Test tries to his name.
“Not every performance has been perfect and there are things he can work on as a young player but he's someone who goes at the opposition with ball in hand.
“Defensively he's very aggressive and he's a learner, so he's taken each game for Scotland and his club and got better.
“There’s a real buzz when he gets on the ball and it’s the same when Stuart Hogg gets on the ball, so it's a great combination to have in the back three alongside Sean Maitland.”
On whether the squad has been hurt by criticism that has rained down since last Sunday’s flop against the Irish, the coach said: “You would have to ask them. There is criticism there if they want to see it, but what is important is what happens in our meeting rooms, and on the training field, and how we improve.
“We missed that opportunity last week to play well and start with a very good performance after all the hard work that had gone in. So that is what we have been working this week to produce.”
On the changes made, Townsend added: “We obviously looked at every position, the performance of the team and the performance of the units within the team. We looked at players that have either been playing well, who came off the bench and the likes of Magnus and Jamie, who weren’t involved last weekend. That goes into a mix of how we beat Samoa and play our best rugby.
“Some players are getting another opportunity, ten out of the 15 get to go again, five players get their first opportunity to start a World Cup match.”
After naming Scotland’s most experienced starting XV ever last week, Townsend has given his team a fresher, more youthful look after bemoaning a lack of “energy” in the opening game.
“It’s what we believe is right for this week,” he said. “We could have made less changes, we could have made more. In terms of the back row, we feel this is the combination we are looking for this week.
“Magnus is a traditional carrier; we lost that with Hamish [whose tournament was ended by a knee injury]. Blade has played very well for us; he hasn’t played 80 minutes yet but he has shown in training and he showed last week that he is capable of playing 80.
“Jamie [who has been recovering from a facial injury] would have been in the mix for last week; he has been an outstandingly consistent player for us over the last 18 months, so they deserve to get an opportunity this week.”
Townsend agreed that the selected players now have a point to prove, to themselves, the coaches and, more importantly, the country after such a deflating start to the tournament.
“Yes. A point to prove, improve, all of that. We have a responsibility when we are with the national team to give our best. The players are aware you may not get another opportunity. Hamish Watson and Ali Price are not going to play another game at this World Cup. For those who haven’t been selected in the 23 this week, someone else has that opportunity now to perform. So a point to prove, yes, but we have to put in big performances against Samoa, Russia and Japan, and then let’s see where that takes us.”