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Townsend explains Russell captaincy 10 months after Scotland axing

(Photo by Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Gregor Townsend is confident Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie will recover from injury in time for next weekend’s World Cup warm-up match away to France after sitting out this Saturday’s Test against Les Bleus at Murrayfield.


The Edinburgh flanker has sustained a minor calf strain and will play no part in this weekend’s match in Edinburgh, with stand-off Finn Russell handed the skipper’s armband in his absence.

However, Townsend is optimistic that Ritchie will be back in contention for the rematch against the French in Saint-Etienne the following Saturday. “I would hope he will be back next week,” said the head coach. “He is confident he will be back in full training next week.

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“It was a calf strain that has required more time off. He got a scan on Tuesday just to make sure there was no more damage done, and it was felt that this week there was no need to push the injury. He is confident he will be running by the weekend and back to full training next week.”

Talismanic stand-off Russell – who will join Bath from Racing 92 after the World Cup – will lead the national team for the first time, less than 10 months after being omitted from the initial squad for the autumn series.


Asked what has changed in the intervening period for the 30-year-old to go from outsider to leader, Townsend said: “Finn has played really well since he got back into the squad. He has always been a leader for us in terms of attack. He is older, has more experience and an opportunity has opened up where he is the right man to lead us this week.

“It’s the right time to give him that opportunity, and it will be interesting to see how he goes. Being vice-captain and our most important attack leader gives him a real confidence and I’m hoping that being captain gives him confidence too.


“The players that do most of the talking on the field are your 10, your captain and maybe one other player. Finn has certainly done that for us over the last couple of years.”

Townsend believes Russell is in his prime. “He is in really good physical shape and was when he came back in last November and during the Six Nations too,” he said.

“He is hitting that sweet spot where, after playing the game for 10 years in that one position and playing against some of the best teams around, he has an understanding of where space might open up.

“If you have got that physical side right too, you can exploit those opportunities. That is what he is doing. He is really motivated about playing for Scotland and playing club rugby for the next few years.


“If you can get that mix for the next two or three years, and it’s important to note he is improving all the time, you’ve got one of the best players in the world in that position with us, which is great.”

Townsend has made 13 changes to his starting XV for this weekend’s clash with the French, restoring the majority of his big hitters after fielding a largely experimental side for last Saturday’s win over Italy.


Ritchie and hooker George Turner are the only notable absentees from the starting line-up, with Ewan Ashman – capped seven times – the least established international in the line-up.

Townsend is hoping Scotland can show over the next two games that they have built on a strong performance in their 32-21 Six Nations defeat by France in Paris in February when they roared back from 19-0 down and threatened to pull off a famous victory.

“We want to show we are a better team than that day,” said Townsend. “I feel that what the players are showing in training is at a lot higher level than what we produced in the Six Nations. That gives us a lot of encouragement and excitement.

“We did play well and the character in the team was outstanding, but we didn’t finish off nearly enough opportunities to win the game. Three times we were over the try-line and didn’t score, and there were another four times where great creative play didn’t get rewarded.

“It’s great that France have committed to home and away fixtures like they did last time. It suits us that we were able to mix up our team last week and we now have two very tough Test matches home and away.”


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William 2 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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