Gregor Townsend challenged his Scottish players to “step up a few levels” as he backed them through the formidable test they face against France in Paris this weekend.
The Scots are top of the Six Nations table after opening their campaign with extra points wins away to England and home to Wales. However, Townsend feels he will need to show further improvement if he is to maintain his perfect start at the Stade de France against the second-ranked team in the world.
“We were tough on the players going into Wales week, and rightly so as we have not supported our first performance going into week two of the Six Nations in the past and also because we believed there was much more to come. the group,” Townsend said on Friday.
“We feel the same this week. I think the players realize what a test it will be, playing one of the best teams in the world at home in a place where we haven’t had much success in the last 100 years.
“It will be a tough challenge, but we can rise to that challenge. We can improve from the game against Wales. Coming into a game like this with wins is a much better place to be than coming off losses. You have that feeling of confidence about how you’re playing and you also have evidence that what you’re doing is leading to good things.”
Townsend, unsurprisingly, kept changes to a minimum, with just one change to the starting XV, as 2021 British and Irish squad member Hamish Watson took over from fellow Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie. Ali Price – another Lion – is back in the squad as one of the substitutes after sitting out the first 23 games due to lack of form.
“We pay attention to all the players that are in the national team”, said the head coach. “The easiest thing would be: ‘We won a game, let’s not even argue, let’s go to the next game.’ You want to reward players who are playing well, but I’ve been saying since the Wales and England games that we’re still not playing at our best. We need to go up a few levels.
“That could come from the team that got the second chance or it could come from other players that we feel can help us improve. The training pattern made selection difficult, but bringing back Hamish Watson and Ali Price, who have both played really well for us in the past and have shown in training that they are ready to come back, that’s the situation you want to be in. .”
Watson has missed the first two league games due to lack of playing time since the autumn after concussion problems, but Townsend feels the 32-year-old, who won 54 caps, is ready to return to the Test arena after playing two matches for Edinburgh in recent weeks.
“Hamish trained well and played two games so we believe he will be back to the level we know he can play,” said the coach. “We believe he is a good complement to the way France want to play and also adds speed to our attack.
“While it’s tough for Luke Crosbie and Jack Dempsey, who was also in the mix, it’s good for us to have that level of competition.
“Hamish is in our leadership group, he was our captain in the summer in Argentina. He has really come into his own as a leader over the last two years, so that experience can help on a psychological level when players look around and see someone who has been there over 50 times for Scotland. It’s up to Hamish to deliver, and that’s what we expect him to do.”