Scotland v France: Gregor Townsend defends his team after criticism from former coach Matt Williams

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has defended himself and his squad in the face of claims by former coach Matt Williams that they have been guilty of talking themselves up and then failing to deliver on their promise in the Six Nations.

Prior to the championship, Townsend, the current coach, described this group of players as the strongest he has worked with since 1999, the last time Scotland won the title.

They opened this season’s campaign with a home win over England but lost in round two to Wales in Cardiff. They take on France at Murrayfield on Saturday and Townsend has admitted it is a match they need to win to retain realistic hope of a title challenge.

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Williams, who was in charge of the national side between 2003 and 2005 and whose record is by far the poorest of any Scotland coach in the professional era, was unsparing in his criticism on Irish television.

Gregor Townsend says Scotland are "a humble and hard working group". (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Speaking after the Wales game, he accused Scotland of “making fools of themselves”.

“I think the talk about it being their year was coming from the Scotland camp again,” Williams said on Virgin Media Sport. “They’ve just got to shut up. Until they actually action out and live their talk they’ve got to shut up because they’re making fools of themselves.

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“They’ve done this about four years in a row. They win a couple of biggies and then the next week they lose. Each time they come out and say ‘we’re going to win, this is us, we’re a great side’, and they’re not doing themselves any favours in the rugby world. They’ve just got to stop the talk, tone it down and live it.”

Townsend dismissed Williams’ remarks, insisting his players did not deserve such criticism and defending their right to be ambitious.

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Matt Williams' record as Scotland coach was poor. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

“It’s all pretty irrelevant, people have their opinions,” said Townsend. “We are a humble and hard working group, our own expectations have gone up.

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“Likewise the expectations of our supporters have gone up. We didn't deliver on those expectations or manage those expectations against Wales and that hurts us more than anybody.

“That’s why we are here, we want to put in the best performance we can put out and one which reaches our potential and we fell below that against Wales.”

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Townsend has made three personnel changes for the France game, including bringing in Rory Darge at blindside flanker for his first Scotland start. Zander Fagerson has been preferred to WP Nel as starting tighthead prop and Magnus Bradbury replaces the injured Matt Fagerson at No 8.

The coach urged his player to seize their “last chance” to remain in the hunt for the title.

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“We know it’s our last opportunity,” said Townsend. “We believe in our team. But our last chance to be in the race for a trophy at the end of the season. We believe in our group so we have to put everything into this at the weekend and deliver what we’re capable of delivering.”