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Reaction: Watson returns to spearhead Calcutta Cup defence

Reaction: Watson returns to spearhead Calcutta Cup defence

Scotland head south to Twickenham on Saturday as they look to defend the Calcutta Cup trophy they sensationally lifted at BT Murrayfield 12 months ago.

In their way stand Championship title-chasing England, with head coach Gregor Townsend making a number of changes to his team to take on the Red Rose.

There are six changes to the starting XV in all, with Scotland aiming to finish their Championship on a high and secure a first win at Twickenham since 1983.

FORWARD SHUFFLE

Three of Townsend’s changes come in the forwards, and two in the back row as Exeter Chiefs man Sam Skinner comes in at blindside flanker and Hamish Watson at No.7, with Josh Strauss moving to the bench.

Magnus Bradbury, 23, produced an all-action performance against Wales last time out and shifts round to No.8, while Ben Toolis is at lock in place of Jonny Gray, who moves to the bench.

Scotland supporters will no doubt be pleased to see Watson go from the off, with the openside producing one of the best impact performances from the bench seen around the world in recent times, beating ten Welsh defenders in a rampaging 22-minute cameo.

Upon naming his squad, Townsend commented: “Both Sam Skinner and Ben Toolis started for us against Italy and deserve another opportunity to show what they can do in a blue jersey.

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“Sam [Skinner] brings a lot of set-piece nous and gives us good balance in the back-row and we are keen to give Magnus [Bradbury] an opportunity to start at No.8.

“While it’s tough on Jamie (Ritchie) to miss this game through injury, we’re delighted to bring back Hamish Watson into the starting line-up.

“He made a real impact on Saturday and we have no doubt that he’s ready to take the game to the opposition in attack and defence.”

COUNTERING ENGLAND

There are three further changes in the backs, with Saracens’ Sean Maitland fit again and starting at No.15 and Byron McGuigan coming on to the wing, in place of the injured Tommy Seymour.

Sam Johnson, so impressive in Scotland’s first three 2019 Guinness Six Nations matches, is back in at centre in place of Pete Horne, partnering Nick Grigg in midfield.

Townsend has also been discussing England’s threats and kicking game, with his back-three aiming to produce strong performances to counter.

He continued: “England are a quality side and have been playing really well throughout the Championship.

“They have shown a different gameplan this season, which is built on power, both through direct ball carrying and also getting off the line in defence.

“They’ve kicked the ball more than any other team in the Guinness Six Nations, which has worked well for them and produced tries, and it also shows that they are more than comfortable defending for several phases.

“Sam Johnson gets an opportunity to build on his strong performances against Italy and Ireland, while it’s good to have Sean Maitland back in the back-three alongside Darcy and Byron, who both played well last weekend.
“These three players and the team as a whole, will have to put in a lot of work off the ball to counter this threat on Saturday.”

BUILD THE PRESSURE

Scotland will no doubt have been frustrated to be pipped to the post by Grand Slam-chasing Wales last weekend, but have plenty of positives to build upon following a second half of attacking rugby.

On Saturday, Scotland had more possession (59 percent), territory (58 percent), played more balls (362 to 259) and carried almost double the amount of metres (872.9 to 472.7) but they were unable to turn that into sufficient points as Wales held firm to prevail.

As well as converting possession into points, Townsend is targeting a fearsome defensive performance: “First of all we have to build on the positive aspects of our performance from last weekend against Wales, when we were able to generate quick ball and build a lot of pressure on the opposition.

“The character and fitness the players displayed showed in the second half, what the team is capable of against one of the best sides in the world. The next step is making that pressure count on the scoreboard, more regularly.

“Winning away from home tends to be achieved through an outstanding defensive performance and we are determined to deliver that this Saturday. At times against Wales we weren’t aggressive or accurate enough so that has been a focus for us this week in training.”