Analysis: Townsend eyeing pace as Scotland target an Edinburgh hit

It’s been a tale of reinforcements arriving for Scotland this week with news that five players are back in the game ahead of Round Four of the Guinness Six Nations.

It’s been a tale of reinforcements arriving for Scotland this week with news that five players are back in the game ahead of Round Four of the Guinness Six Nations.

And not a moment too soon with the Grand Slam-chasing Welsh coming to town – Hamish Watson, WP Nel and Sam Skinner could all be key recruits to the battle.

Stafford McDowall and Grant Stewart have also returned while Matt Fagerson, Byron McGuigan and Gordon Reid – who all missed out on initial selection through injury – are also included.

Then there’s the small matter of Finn Russell’s try-scoring return for Racing 92 at the weekend – the fly-half looks likely to lead the assault on the buoyant Welsh.


Of course, with returning players you get selection decisions and one of the most interesting areas Gregor Townsend will mull over this week is the back row, where Watson, Skinner and Fagerson are all ingredients now in the mix.

The back row will be key against Wales, who, with opposition ruck ball at 4.04 seconds across the Championship so far, are the team who slow their rivals’ ball down more than anyone else.

Scotland already know they have one weapon to utilise – 22-year-old Jamie Ritchie leads the way in terms of breakdown steals alongside Wenceslas Lauret (four) and has also hit the third-most rucks so far (115) – he looks unmovable from the team.

The Scots have plenty of talent in this area but perhaps the best bet to come in could be Hamish Watson, an out-and-out breakdown warrior in the 2018 Championship and high on fitness owing to his recent injury being to his hand, according to assistant coach Danny Wilson.

“It’s allowed him to be able to do a lot of what he would do in a normal training week,” said Wilson when discussing Watson’s 60 minutes for Edinburgh against Benetton on Saturday.

“What I saw at the weekend, he certainly wasn’t shying away from anything, he was putting his head and his hands into things as he normally would.

“He’s in a good place to come back into this week’s training and we’ll see how he goes in that.”


With Wales having won 11 of the last 12 against Scotland and on a hot streak now running to a dozen, some are negative on Scotland’s chances this weekend – but the Welsh can be got at.

Warren Gatland’s men certainly looked fragile in the first 40 minutes of the Championship when France played with both pace and width to cause all kinds of problems down the flanks – leading to tries for Louis Picamoles and Yoann Huget.

This pacy approach would seem in tune with Scotland’s game, with Townsend’s men leading the way so far in in terms of ball in play (42.9 minutes per game average) and running metres, where they average 918.7 a game.

If pace is going to be your approach then there have been calls in some quarters to start scrum-half Ali Price, who has come off the bench in seven Championship matches since last starting against Wales in February 2018.

Greig Laidlaw though, now the second-highest points scorer in Scottish Test rugby behind Chris Paterson, is clearly trusted by Townsend while Price is calling for shots to be fired.

“We’ve not really clicked,” Price told BBC Scotland. “It’s disappointing and the boys were down after that France game. We’ve not really fired a shot in this Championship whether it be in attack or defence. It’s just down to little bits of accuracy.

“It shouldn’t take until the fourth game to get that, but maybe we’ll click against Wales and put in a good performance.”


As well as their current win rate, there are some other impressive statistics emanating from Wales at the moment, including the fact that they are yet to concede a second-half try and their ability to only concede three penalties against England.

But an area where Scotland may have some joy is in the lineout, where Wales have lost ten on their own throw with a 70 per cent success rate.

Fortunately for the Scots this is an area where they have real depth. Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray started against France but Ben Toolis and Sam Skinner have both been in excellent form this season and are options for Townsend to change things up.

Assistant coach Wilson is targeting improvements: “We hold the best record in the competition after the autumn in terms of (lineout) drive metres conceded.

“If you compete hard in the air you can leave yourselves a bit exposed on the floor and against these teams they’ll build that drive pressure.

“We forced three or four poor deliveries against France but didn’t physically steal anything. We need to get a bit better in the air in certain field positions but I’ve been really pleased with the drive defence.”