Rugby World Cup: Gregor Townsend names most experienced Scotland team ever for Ireland crunch
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will unleash a Scotland team with the most combined number of caps in history to meet the fearsome challenge in potentially tricky conditions of top-ranked Ireland in Sunday’s World Cup opener in Yokohama.
The total tally of 630 caps in the starting Scotland XV - averaging 42 per man - smashes the record currently held jointly by sides who, coincidentally also played Rugby World Cup pool matches, with the 581 featuring in Scotland's matches against France in Sydney, 2003, and England in Wellington, 2011.
The combined 97 caps of Tommy Seymour at wing and Ryan Wilson in the back row have been preferred to the seven and nine held by Darcy Graham and Blade Thomson as the Pool A heavyweights clash two days after hosts Japan beat Russia 30-10 tonight to get the long-awaited tournament up and running.
“It’s experience and we want to see those players’ strengths,” said Townsend in Tokyo yesterday after the matchday 23 was officially announced.
“Ryan has a number of strengths away from the rugby side of things that he brings to the team. He played really well against Ireland in the spring [Six Nations]; he went off at half-time and we didn’t play as well in the second half. Some part of that was that Ryan’s influence wasn’t there in the second half.
“He has captained the team [against Georgia earlier this month] and has played really well in a couple of games in our warm-up series so we feel he has earned that spot. Given his experience he can really help prepare the team well.”
Graham, the 22-year-old wing, has enjoyed an explosive start to his Test career but Townsend has kept faith with Scotland’s joint-fourth record tryscorer Seymour [19, with Stuart Hogg].
“It’s similar with Tommy,” explained the coach. “He has played really well for Scotland and he’s in great physical condition. He’s been unfortunate over this period that he went off with an injury against France [last month] and was playing well against Georgia but had to move to full back when Blair [Kinghorn] got injured.
“Tommy brings a lot of strengths, one of them being in the air. We know Ireland, like a number of teams, will use the kicking game; we use the kicking game more and more now and we see Tommy and Sean [Maitland] being real weapons there.”
Townsend revealed that Kinghorn missed out on a bench spot after suffering concussion symptoms a few weeks after he went off in the final warm-up at home to Georgia on 6 September.
“He trained non-contact over the past few days. Our session two days ago involved contact and he felt he had symptoms yesterday [Thursday],” said Townsend.
“With any head injury you don’t know how long it will be, but he had fully recovered before that so we hope he will recover over the weekend.
“We have nine days between the Ireland and Samoa games. Both Blair and Ben Toolis, who picked up head injuries against Georgia, we felt they got through the protocols but Blair had those late symptoms.”
Scott Cummings is preferred to Toolis as second row cover on the bench, which Townsend described as another of the toughest selection decisions.
The coach said he still didn’t have a definitive forecast for what conditions lie in store on Sunday.
“No. Two days ago it was looking like it would almost be in the middle of a typhoon,” he said.
““Today it says it will be dry in the afternoon but wet in the evening – but I don't know when the afternoon turns to evening!“We're kicking off at 4.45pm and usually on the day of a game you're looking at a weather forecast just to make sure you've got that right.”