NatWest 6 Nations
Hopes are high for Townsend’s Scots
Gregor Townsend has enjoyed a tremendous start to his career as Scotland head coach (pic: SNS Group)
Such has been Scotland’s improvement under Gregor Townsend that the team will carry a hefty burden of expectancy into their opening NatWest 6 Nations match against Wales in Cardiff on Saturday.
Ahead of naming his team today, the former Glasgow Warriors head coach could not have wished for a better start to his tenure after replacing Vern Cotter last summer, with some impressive results already on his CV less than a year into the job.
A fine victory over hosts Australia in just his second game in charge in June was repeated with a memorable eight-try rout of the Wallabies at BT Murrayfield five months later as the Scots demolished their opponents 53-24.
That epic triumph came just a week after Townsend’s men had come within a whisker of shocking the All Blacks in Edinburgh after one of their best performances against the world champions.
Just how they cope with their heavy load this weekend at the Principality Stadium may go some way to hinting what kind of campaign awaits.
Townsend, though, has not had his troubles to seek on the injury front as he plots a way to mount a challenge to back-to-back 6 Nations winners England.
He is without three hookers, two tightheads and three looseheads, so it will be far from his first-choice XV which takes to the field.
The scrum-half situation is a tricky conundrum for the head coach. The experienced Greig Laidlaw is back fit again after a lengthy spell on the sidelines, though the more dynamic Ali Price could well claim the jersey.
Another welcome inclusion in the squad is the inspirational Stuart Hogg, back in action after injury problems of his own. If the Scots are to return north in good spirits from a traditionally difficult venue for them, a lot will depend on how he and Finn Russell perform.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Townsend is not short of confidence ahead of his first Six Nations campaign, declaring that his team is capable of beating anyone in world rugby.
“I am a big believer in setting high expectations,” said Townsend. “It shows the players that you believe they can achieve, that it is right for them to aspire.
“If we can get things right, we can beat any team in the world. The message to the players is to believe, to believe in what they have done and what it takes to get there.”
Kick-off on Saturday is 2.15pm.
France take on Ireland in Paris in Saturday’s other fixture (4.45pm), while Sunday sees England begin the defence of their title in Rome against Italy (3pm).