Townsend backs club combinations to shine

Gregor Townsend found himself with some big calls to make this week as Scotland head to Paris in search of a first win in the French capital in two decades.

Gregor Townsend found himself with some big calls to make this week as Scotland head to Paris in search of a first win in the French capital in two decades.

The Scotland head coach pulled the strings the last time they won at the Stade de France, and this week will have to cope with the absences of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell, not to mention Huw Jones and Ryan Wilson.

Between them that quartet account for 173 caps, 277 points and a pair of Player of the Championship awards, so filling their shoes will not be easy.

Townsend has made his call though, with Peter Horne getting the nod at fly-half, Blair Kinghorn returning at full-back, Nick Grigg in the centres and Magnus Bradbury in the back row.


The biggest decision for Townsend came at fly-half, where he had to fill the hole left by Russell’s absence, with a trio of options at his disposal.

Adam Hastings is the young buck who has replaced Russell with Glasgow Warriors, while Duncan Weir joined the squad this week after a strong season with Worcester Warriors.

In the end though, Townsend plumped for Horne, a versatile playmaker who can just as easily play at 12 if required.

While it would be a lot to ask Horne to match Russell’s majestic all-court passing and kicking game, the 29-year-old offers a steady hand in the fly-half jersey.

What is more, he will combine with club colleagues Grigg and Sam Johnson in the midfield in what is clearly a definite priority for Townsend.

He explained: “Injuries create opportunities for others to show what they can do and, throughout the past couple of seasons, we’ve seen a number of players really step up.

“All of the players coming in started against Argentina in the summer, which ranks as one of our best ever away performances.

“On top of that there is cohesion forged through familiarity at club level – Magnus [Bradbury] in the back row lines up with clubmate Jamie Ritchie, and Pete Horne and Nick Grigg are either side of Sam Johnson in the backs.”

Where Horne offers experience, the inclusion of Edinburgh pair Kinghorn and Bradbury is a show of faith in youth.

Kinghorn needs no introduction after his opening-day hat-trick, and will step in for Hogg in his preferred full-back position.

Meanwhile Bradbury has proved his fitness after a spell on the sidelines and comes straight into the starting side in the back row.

Often compared with club colleague Jamie Ritchie, the pair will start together for the second time, having both played in last summer’s win over Canada.


While those were the notable takeaways from the starting line-up, some returning faces could play a major role at the Stade de France.

In the front row Townsend has been able to call on Fraser Brown, who also featured against Ireland, and Zander Fagerson who is back from injury and offers considerable impact.

Elsewhere French fans in Toulon and Montpellier got an indication of what livewire Darcy Graham can do in Europe this season, and he could break the game open late on if required.

Add in Hastings, whose father Gavin won in Paris in 1995 in his final Championship, and there is certainly plenty of firepower waiting in the wings.

However Townsend is only too aware of how dangerous France can be on home soil, even after a torrid afternoon at Twickenham a fortnight ago.

He added: “At home, France have played really well in the past two Championships. They were 16-0 up at half-time against Wales, and their previous Six Nations games before included a win over England and a last-minute defeat to the eventual Irish team that went on to win the Grand Slam.

“They are a very dangerous opponent, combining power, ambition and skill. Their individual talent is outstanding and, when they get things right – which has predominantly been in the Six Nations at home – they’ve played with a real collective spirit and fed off the emotion of the crowd.

“They will certainly be fired up following their loss at Twickenham.”