Gregor Townsend has challenged his Scotland players to “go up a few levels” as he backed them to deal with the formidable test they face against France in Paris this weekend.
The Scots are top of the Guinness Six Nations table after opening their campaign with bonus-point wins away to England and at home to Wales.
However, head coach Townsend feels they will need to show further improvement if they are to maintain their perfect start in the Stade de France against the side ranked second in the world.
“We were tough on the players going into the Wales week, and rightly so because in the past we haven’t backed up our first performance going into the second week of the Six Nations and also because we believed there was much more to come from the group,” Townsend said, speaking on Friday morning as the team prepared to fly to Paris.
“We feel the same way this week. I think the players realise what a big test this is going to be, playing one of the best teams in the world on their home patch, at a venue we haven’t had much success (at) over the past 100 years.
“It’s going to be a tough challenge but we can match that challenge. We can improve from the Wales game. Going into a game like this on the back of wins is a much better place to be than if you’re coming off the back of defeats.
“You’ve got that confident feeling about how you’re playing and you’ve also got evidence that what you’re doing is leading to good things.”
Townsend unsurprisingly has kept changes to a minimum, with just one alteration to the starting XV as 2021 British and Irish Lions squad member Hamish Watson takes the place of fellow Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie. Ali Price – another Lion – is back in the squad as one of the subs after being left out of the 23 for the opening two games due to lack of form.
“We give consideration to every player who’s in the mix for selection,” said the head coach. “The easy thing would be to go ‘we’ve won a game, let’s not even have a discussion, let’s move on to the next game’.
“You want to reward players that are playing well but I’ve said ever since the Wales and England games, we’re not playing at our best yet. We need to go up a few levels.
“That can come through the team that get the second opportunity or it can come from other players we feel can help us improve. The standard of training has made selection difficult but to bring back Hamish Watson and Ali Price, who have played very well for us in the past and have been showing in training that they are ready to go again, that’s the situation you want to get in.”
Watson missed the first two games of the championship due to a lack of game time since the autumn following concussion issues, but Townsend feels the 32-year-old, who has won 54 caps, is now ready to return to the Test arena after playing two matches for Edinburgh in recent weeks.
“Hamish has trained well and had two games so we believe he’ll be back at the level we know he can play at,” said the coach. “We believe he’s a good foil for the way France want to play and also adds speed to our attack.
“While it’s tough on Luke Crosbie and Jack Dempsey, who was also in the mix, it’s a good thing for us to have that level of competition.
“Hamish is in our leadership group, he was captain for us in the summer in Argentina. He’s really stepped up as a leader over the last year or two so that experience can help from a psychological level when players look around and see someone who’s been there 50-plus times for Scotland. It’s down to Hamish to deliver, and that’s what we’re expecting him to do.”