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How Gregor Townsend rated new Scotland recruit Ben Healy and his spiral kicks

By PA
Ben Healy (Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend heaped praise on Ben Healy after the stand-off marked his first start for Scotland by staking a strong claim for a place in the World Cup squad.

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The 24-year-old – handed the number 10 jersey in a much-changed team – kicked 10 points and was involved in two of the Scots’ three tries as they defeated Italy 25-13 in the first of four warm-up matches for the showpiece in France in the autumn.

Healy, who made his international debut as a substitute at home to the Azzurri in the last game of the Six Nations in March, is widely deemed to be vying with fellow fly-half Adam Hastings for a spot in Townsend’s 33-man squad, which will be named in mid-August.

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“I thought he was excellent,” the head coach said of the Ireland-born stand-off, who has moved from Munster to Edinburgh this summer. “To play at 10 you need to have a confident temperament, you need to be calm when things aren’t going well for you, and he showed both of those.

“His kicking was outstanding. Those spiral kicks, you could sense the crowd thinking, ‘ooft, we don’t often see this’. On a couple of them, it changed us winning a penalty in the 22 and maybe getting to the halfway line to actually being in their 22.

“He delivered at the end there with two good passes that led to Ollie Smith making the break and Cam Redpath putting away Josh Bayliss (for the third try).”

Townsend was delighted to see talismanic winger Darcy Graham return to the Test arena with a double after he missed the Six Nations with a knee injury.

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The 26-year-old – in his first international outing since his hat-trick against Argentina in November – took his try tally for Scotland to 18 with a couple of clinical touchdowns.

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“It was great that he got a game (for Scotland),” said Townsend. “He missed the Six Nations and we just need to get him and the back three more ball.

“He didn’t need to do much for his scores, but it shows his instinct for the tryline. Especially the second one, he still has to finish that, but it was created by a solid scrum, a really good carry by Stafford McDowall.

“The first one was a solid lineout maul then a really good kick from Ben Healy. That’s sometimes the way for wingers, but Darcy can create other things with his footwork and pace.”

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Graham, who returned to action towards the end of the season with Edinburgh, is likely to be given further game time in the upcoming double-header against France as Townsend bids to get his strongest team primed for their opening World Cup match against South Africa in Marseille in six weeks.

“There’s a lot around the World Cup squad selection but really the important thing is to get the team out there to play these big games so we go into the South Africa with a team that’s gelled together and played in big games,” he said.

“France are hosting the World Cup and they’re full of confidence so we’ll be putting out as strong a team as possible over the next two weeks and the way Darcy’s played for us in the last few seasons, he’s obviously going to be very much in the mix for that.”

Townsend gave several fringe men an opportunity against Italy and was asked if any performances had altered his thinking with regard to finalising his World Cup squad.

“I’d need to have a deeper look at it,” he said. “Games will obviously weigh heavily on our selection discussions but we’ve trained for seven weeks now, and what players have done in training is really important.

“Sometimes, it just might not go your way in a game. We’ve got to understand that too.

“I was really pleased with the bench. To come on and make an impact in the first game of the season, a Test match, a lot of credit goes to them.”

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Turlough 3 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

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