BARRING any so-far-unannounced injuries in training earlier this week, Gregor Townsend could well name an unchanged Scotland team today for Saturday’s home game against Wales.
But while the personnel may be unaltered from last weekend’s historic 11-6 win over England, the head coach is sure to make a few tactical switches rather than simply calling on the same players to do the same things.
When it comes to team selection, the old saying is sufficient explanation for going with the same 15: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No-one underperformed at Twickenham, and those players such as Sean Maitland and Jamie Ritchie who were short of match practice on Saturday will be that much livelier against the Welsh. Both the winger and the flanker acquitted themselves well enough in the Calcutta Cup game in any case.
When your bench includes players you can rely upon to make a major impact, you may sometimes toy with the idea of starting them. But while WP Nel, Richie Gray and Gary Graham in the front row, second row and back row respectively are all more than capable of doing a good job right from kick-off, it would seem gratuitous to promote any of them for Saturday.
Zander Fagerson is more mobile and dynamic than Nel, Jonny Gray and Scott Cummings are a world-class lock partnership which there is no need to break up, and in the back row Matt Fagerson had his best game yet for Scotland five days ago.
There is even less of a case for putting any of the backs replacements into the team. Scott Steele is a defensively astute scrum-half who will get his chance before long, but at present he is some way behind Ali Price, who has matured into one of the team’s key leaders. Similarly, Jaco van der Walt is sound in defence and an excellent place-kicker but cannot compete with Russell when it comes to creativity; the fact he was the one unused replacement against England tells its own story.
Huw Jones has a lot to offer, too, but Townsend has said he sees the Glasgow full-back as primarily a 13, and Jones is not going to oust Chris Harris from that position at present. In fact, Townsend could conceivably have thought of bringing Blair Kinghorn into
the 23 instead of Jones, but the Edinburgh back-three player has a slight injury and has been released back to his team.
Townsend’s purported penchant for tinkering – his so-called tombola – has been exaggerated in any case. For example, when he made multiple changes from match to match as head coach of Glasgow Warriors, there was invariably some sort of method behind the seeming madness.
That does not mean to say that the changes always worked, but they did have a purpose in mind.
Yet if the Scotland squad is not to be freshened up by a change in personnel, it will need to come up with some innovations in its approach. That happens from match to match in any case, but on Saturday in particular Scotland will have to set their own agenda very consciously rather than hoping they can produce another Twickenham-style performance on autopilot.
They will be favourites to beat Wales – a discomfiting position for almost any Scottish team to be in – and they can expect the Welsh to come racing out of the blocks as Scotland themselves did against England. They cannot allow themselves to be put on the back foot for long stretches of the opening quarter.
So what is the best attitude for them to take? Probably one of ignoring the glories of last week, and deciding they have to prove themselves all over again.
This squad is likely to keep getting better for a year or two yet, so they will eventually have to deal with the pressure of being expected to win. For the time being, however, Scotland will be better off going into the game with the mindset of underdogs who will need to scrap relentlessly from first to last. If they do that, they are likely to fare far better than if they see themselves as there to be shot at and stand back waiting for Wales to come at them.