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Scotland latest on absent trio that includes Duhan van der Merwe

By PA
(Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

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Gregor Townsend believes a mouth-watering opener at home to England will focus the minds of his Scotland players as they go in search of Guinness Six Nations success. The Scots have high hopes of making a significant impact at this year’s tournament, with some big results over the past 18 months allied to strong competition for places fuelling the feelgood factor.

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Head coach Townsend feels his Scotland team can draw additional motivation from the fact their first Six Nations match in almost two years in front of supporters will be the Calcutta Cup showdown with the Auld Enemy at BT Murrayfield on Saturday week. “I believe it’s the most eagerly awaited game we have had for a few years,” he said. 

“The Six Nations is a brilliant tournament, it’s a real privilege to be involved in it, and to have crowds back this year makes it even more special. We know this is the biggest game we face, it’s such a historic fixture. We are playing for a famous trophy and it’s 151 years old. To have it first up adds to the buzz around the Six Nations. It will focus our minds next week.

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Racing assistant Mike Prendergast gauges the form of Scotland’s Finn Russell
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Racing assistant Mike Prendergast gauges the form of Scotland’s Finn Russell

“The games in November were excellent in terms of seeing fans back when we arrived at the stadium, the noise they generated when we came on to the field and how they helped us through those games. So to have them there for our biggest fixture of the year will be a great boost to us.

“We have also got three away games this year so we will also have to handle those occasions where the crowd are against us and for the home team. But everyone involved in rugby can’t wait to play in front of supporters again for this Six Nations.”

Scotland will be defending the Calcutta Cup after winning at Twickenham last year for the first time since 1983. Eddie Jones’ side finished fifth in last year’s Six Nations, with their only wins coming against Italy and France, but Townsend believes their autumn victories over Australia and South Africa are a clear sign that they represent a serious threat for this year’s tournament, starting against Scotland. 

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He said: “After our game against them last year, England played well later on in last year’s championship. I thought their game against France was their best performance and then in November, they kept building.

“Their win against South Africa, the world champions, shows they are a quality side. They were moving the ball and had various attacking threats, so we will wait and see if that is still the case in the Six Nations because it is a different tournament and has a different feel to the November internationals. It looks like they are going to add more of an attacking side to their game than they had in the last championship.”

Duhan van der Merwe and Kyle Rowe have missed training this week due to illness, while Josh Bayliss has been absent through concussion, but Townsend is optimistic about having all three available in the lead-up to the England game.

He continued: “They are all making progress. Both Duhan and Kyle are all feeling much better and if they continue to make progress, we believe they will be available for our camp next week, which begins on Sunday night. Josh still had symptoms a couple of days ago but we believe he is now clear and is starting the return-to-play process. We will just wait and see over the next few days on all three players.”

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