Head coach Gregor Townsend: No extra pressure on Scotland
Gregor Townsend insists Scotland are not under extra pressure – despite admitting they face World Cup elimination if they fail to beat Samoa on Monday.
The Dark Blues have no room for error after being thrashed by Ireland in last Sunday’s Pool A opener and must now overcome the Pacific Islanders, Russia and then hosts Japan if they want to keep hopes of the last eight alive.
But Townsend insists his team would still have had to topple their three final group opponents even if they had managed to upset Joe Schmidt’s men in Yokohama last week.
He said: “The reality is we now have to win our next three games to make it out of our pool, so the knockout stages for us begin this Monday night. But if we had won or if we hadn’t won last week, we would still have been in a similar situation.
“There would have been a bit of comfort in knowing you had got points on the board but Samoa and Japan both won their opening games so we need to beat them.
“We know if we don’t win all the next three games we won’t make the quarter-finals. The players are aware of that but they enter every game with the belief and determination to win anyway.”
A dark cloud gathered over the Scotland camp after they self-imploded at the International Stadium to gift Ireland a bonus-point win.
The players have been hurt by the stinging criticism that has been directed their way in the week since but Townsend fully expects to see his team come out fighting at Kobe’s Misaki Stadium and prove their doubters wrong.
He said: “You always get a sense of negativity after a defeat or a performance where you don’t play anywhere near your best, but there is also a sense that you can’t wait for the next game.
“There is criticism there if the players want to see it, but what is important is what happens in our meeting rooms and on the training field and how we improve.
“We missed that opportunity last week to play well and start with a very good performance after all the hard work that had gone in. So that is what we have been working this week to produce.
“Do we have a point to prove? Yes – a point to prove, improve, all of that. We have a responsibility when we are with the national team to give our best.
“The players are aware you may not get another opportunity. Hamish Watson and Ali Price are not going to play another game at this World Cup. For those who haven’t been selected in the 23 this week, someone else has that opportunity now to perform. A point to prove, yes, but we have to put in big performances against Samoa, Russia and Japan, and then let’s see where that takes us.”
Magnus Bradbury missed out on selection for Townsend’s 31-man squad but has been handed a World Cup reprieve after Watson was ruled out for the rest of the tournament with the serious knee injury he sustained last week.
The blindside flanker will now go straight into the line-up to face Samoa after Townsend reacted to last week’s thrashing by scrubbing the back row that was so brutally out-muscled by the Irish. Watson’s slot on the openside goes to Jamie Ritchie.
Ryan Wilson is benched while vice-captain John Barclay has been dropped altogether, with Blade Thomson coming in at No 8. Townsend has also made two changes in the backs, with centre Chris Harris and wing Darcy Graham taking over from Tommy Seymour and Duncan Taylor.
The head coach added: “We obviously looked at every position, the performance of the team and the performance of the units within the team. We looked at players that have either been playing well, who came off the bench and the likes of Magnus and Jamie, who weren’t involved last weekend. That goes into a mix of how we beat Samoa and play our best rugby.
“Some players are getting another opportunity, 10 out of the 15 get to go again, five players get their first opportunity to start a World Cup match.
“It is what we believe is right for this week. We could have made less changes, we could have made more. In terms of the back row, we feel this is the combination we are looking for this week.”