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'More to come' from Scotland warns Townsend ahead of Italy and Ireland

By PA
Gregor Townsend/ PA

Gregor Townsend is desperate to see Scotland hit their maximum performance levels over the next two weekends as they bid to secure a first top-two finish in the Six Nations era.

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The Scots are second in the championship table – a point ahead of England and three above France – as they prepare for matches away to Italy this Saturday and Grand Slam-chasing Ireland the following week.

Townsend has seen his team defeat Wales and England while going agonisingly close to defeating the French, but he still feels they are yet to hit top gear for any sustained period.

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“Happy-ish,” he said, reflecting on the campaign so far. “You’ve obviously got to be delighted for the team to beat England and retain the Calcutta Cup.

“But in terms of performance, we’re a little bit away from what we know we can deliver. The first 45 minutes against Wales is probably still the best we’ve played.

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“We had elements of control throughout much of the France game and for the last 60 minutes of the England game. But there’s still a lot more to come from us.

“We’re delighted with how the guys trained yesterday, a real physical session. The non-23 trained really well and really tested us. So the guys are in a good position to deliver their best performances over the next two weeks. That’s all we’re working towards.”

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Scotland know that even if they win in Rome on Saturday, it may not be enough to stop Ireland securing the championship against England later in the day. If the Irish slip up at Twickenham, it could pave the way for a last weekend title shootout between Ireland and Scotland in Dublin.

“We can only do what we have to do this weekend which is deliver a winning performance and see where we are after that,” said Townsend.

“We’re the first game so I’m sure we’ll be watching the other game with interest.

“We’re into the last two rounds of the championship still in the mix, although it’s an outside chance for the championship. There’s a lot to play for this weekend and again in Dublin.”

Asked if a second-place finish would represent a good outcome for the Scots, who have never finished higher than third this century, Townsend, said: “I don’t know. Anything to build on what we’ve done in the last few years would be an improvement.

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“We’re focused on the performance and we know that at times it’s been better since the World Cup and last year’s Six Nations but still not where we believe this team can be.”

Townsend has made three changes to his team for the match in the Stadio Olimpico.

Regular scrum-half Ben White has been rested following a busy schedule with Toulon, paving the way for Glasgow’s George Horne to make his first start since the 2019 World Cup and the experienced Ali Price – who has played no part in the championship so far – is promoted to the bench.

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In-form Saracens back-rower Andy Christie replaces Jamie Ritchie, who drops to the bench, while Bath’s Cam Redpath takes the place of influential Glasgow centre Sione Tuipulotu, who is out for the remainder of the tournament with a knee injury.

“We feel Ben has played a lot of rugby, he’s only missed one game since October,” said Townsend, explaining the changes at scrum-half.

“Going back and forward to Toulon during this period, something’s got to give in terms of a rest at some point, and we feel this week is the best week for him to recharge.

“And also with the form and experience of the two other scrum-halves in our squad who have been training really well. George has been on the bench and Ali has been excellent during this period so we want to give those two an opportunity.”

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