Wales v Scotland: Gregor Townsend expects game to go ahead but awaits decision as coronavirus crisis deepens

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend expects the game to go on. Picture: SRU/SNSScotland coach Gregor Townsend expects the game to go on. Picture: SRU/SNS
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend expects the game to go on. Picture: SRU/SNS | other
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend expects Saturday’s Six Nations match against Wales in Cardiff to go ahead despite the ramping up of the coronavirus crisis.

After naming his team for the match, Townsend headed to the airport in the assumption the game would go ahead but was awaiting decisions to emerge from the emergency Cobra meeting taking place in Downing Street.

“We are at the behest of the policy-makers and so far things have been put in place that the game will go ahead,” said the coach. “We’ve followed all procedures and protocols regarding contact and washing hands, and we saw at the weekend [Scotland’s 28-17 win over France] what a fantastic spectacle that was and how great the Six Nations is.

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“And we hope that we get to play this weekend. We understand if that’s not the case and it’s for serious reasons.”

Asked if he had concerns himself about the prospect of 74,500 attending a game of rugby in the current climate, Townsend said: “Not at this stage. We’re two days away from the game. We played last weekend. I do understand that things move fast, but we’re two days away so it would be a surprise if the game was called off this late.”

Asked if sport should be secondary under such circumstances he added: “Yes, and it will be when those decisions are made. I think everyone involved in sport will know if it’s time to either not play the game or play the games behind closed doors, and that’s what we’ll follow.

“Up until then, as a coach and as players, you’ve got to prepare to play a massive game at the weekend. We’re very close to that happening.”

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Townsend said the players had been preparing calmly for the Test match and had shown no concerns about playing.

“No, not at all,” he insisted. “We’ve been getting updates pretty regularly on the situation. We played in Italy before the outbreak really set hold and games started getting called off there, and sporting events started getting called off.

“Since then it was the 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. And we’re two days away from the game so we’ll wait and see if that changes in the next two days.”

Townsend said the option to play behind closed doors was not something he had any influence over.

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“I think my opinion is irrelevant on that,” he said. “It’s whether the organisers, the Welsh Rugby Union, decide that’s the way they want to go. We’ll just prepare as if we’re playing it in front of a full house in a very difficult venue, iconic venue to play a game of rugby, and if anything changes we’ll have to adapt.”

Townsend has made three changes to the team that started against France, all in the pack, as Stuart McInally returns at hooker, Sam Skinner replaces Scott Cummings at lock and Magnus Bradbury returns at No 8.

Townsend revealed that back-rower Nick Haining had been ill but it was not coronavirus related.

“One is illlness-enforced - Nick Haining was struggling after the weekend with an illness, and given the six-day turnaround we felt it was better to go with Magnus and Matt Fagerson who were 100 per cent fit and fresh,” explained the coach.

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“It’s tough on Nick - he may have recovered in time for the game at the weekend. He’s doing really well in this Six Nations and added real depth to our back row.

“No [not coronavirus]. Really feverish, and obviously we played a demanding game on Sunday, so we’re managing the team as best we can this week knowing that 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 that misses out.”

The Wales v Scotland game is the only fixture still scheduled for what should have been the closing weekend of the championship. Both the Italy v England and France v Ireland matches have been postponed due to the virus outbreak. Ireland v Italy was postponed last weekend.

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