Scotland players could be disappointed as Gregor Townsend prepares to swing World Cup axe

Press Association Sport 13:56 01/08/2019
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Darcy Graham shone for Scotland during the Six Nations.

Several established Scotland players could be left disappointed as Gregor Townsend prepares to swing the World Cup axe, assistant coach Danny Wilson has warned.

The Dark Blues have stepped up their preparations for the tournament in Japan with a training camp in St Andrews and Wilson says competition has never been fiercer.

Head coach Townsend was forced to adapt during this year’s Six Nations as injuries left his original blueprint in tatters.

But that opened the door for rookies like Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Sam Skinner and Darcy Graham to impress and all took their chance.

Now, with the casualty list clearing, Wilson admits there will be surprises when the current 44-man training squad is slashed to leave the group of 31 who will board September’s flight to the Far East.

He said: “We’re in that nice fluffy time when everyone’s getting on really well because there’s no selection, but that’s around the corner for us.

“I’m seeing a Scotland squad that – touch wood – is all fit and I’m seeing lots of competition for places and an intensity in training.

“Genuinely there’s places up for grabs. The bonus of the Six Nations this year is that players got opportunities off the back of injuries, but those players took those opportunities.

“That gives a real selection headache when players come back fit.

“In Scotland we need that competition and depth, and the bonus from the Six Nations is that we’re developing that.”

Wilson was brought in last year to replace forwards coach Dan McFarland after he was head-hunted for the top job at Ulster.

Under Wilson’s predecessor, the Scotland pack was a well-oiled machine, but it has taken the former Dragons, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues set-piece expert time to get his ideas across.

However, the three-month build-up to Scotland’s first Pool A clash against Ireland in Yokohama on September 22 has given him ample opportunity to get to the bottom of the problems that blighted Townsend’s team as they finished fifth in the Six Nations with just a win and a draw.

He said: “The time makes a huge difference. Before a Test match you’re trying to ram a huge amount in.

“This is far different, like a pre-season, so you’ve got a chance to work on the finer detail.

“Slowly but surely (I’ve been putting my stamp on things). It’s been well documented that during the Six Nations we had a different group in terms of the injuries we had.

“Now to have the likes of John Barclay back in the squad, to work with these guys and see a healthy squad that we didn’t have during the Six Nations, it’s been good for me to build relationships and spend more time on the training pitch.

“During the Six Nations we were number one at scrum time on our own ball, but we need to improve on opposition ball a bit because sometimes we were under pressure.

“Line-out wise, our ball was also pretty good, the drive attack and defence was reasonably good.

“We probably want to affect opposition ball a little more, because perhaps we set a foundation to make sure no-one drove against us, but it affected our ability to steal in the air. We need a balance moving forward.”

Scotland’s prep work for Japan has already started bleeding in aspects that will ready them for the hot, humid conditions they can expect in Japan as Townsend looks to avoid a costly slip.

“Obviously, Gregor having such an eye for detail, we’ve been working on a lot of things,” said Wilson. “We’ve even been training with a wet, slippery ball because of the humidity we can expect in Japan.

“We’ve put in place all sorts of bits and pieces to give ourselves the best chance to settle in quickly.”

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