INTENSITY and aggression are the buzzwords round the Scotland camp this week as a new group of players try to seize what could be their one and only chance to cement places on the plane to Japan.

Head coach Gregor Townsend admitted a lot of the problems when they faced France in Nice last weekend came from a collective failure to reach the necessary levels of physicality but promised that would be put right when they play the same opponents at Murrayfield on Saturday.

In some ways, being in Edinburgh probably does not help him much. The serious problem last week underlined was the inability to step up a level when home comforts are missing. They have never had any problem producing that aggression fuelled by the Murrayfield roar and he won't learn much if they do so again.

"It was a painful lesson for players and coaches that we have to do much better in the build-up, and we have to deliver a much better performance in the game," Townsend admitted. "It is obviously a different group of players, but they feel as hurt as the team that went out at the weekend did. We will see a better performance. It has to be a lot better because France are in great shape and they’ve picked a stronger team this weekend."


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Looking at the detail of the selection throws up a number of interesting possibilities, most notably in the back row where there were undoubtedly issues last week.

Blade Thomson, the Scots qualified New Zealander playing in Wales, has been brought straight in after missing nearly seven months with a concussion and will have a key role in getting the Scots on the front foot and adding strength to the defence. He is handed the No.8 shirt even though his club position is as a blindside flanker, with Ryan Wilson, who has played No.8 regularly for Scotland, is asked to slot in at blindside.

"He [Thomson] is a very skilful player who can off-load the ball well," Townsend said. "He can make good decisions over when to pass and when to carry. He is an excellent line out forward and he has an edge about him which we have to see this week from all our forwards – all our team.

"He has been with us right from the start of pre-season training and he has improved in terms of his conditioning. He can play blindside and eight. He has played blindside for Scarlets but started at eight for the Hurricanes when he played there."

The way Townsend was talking, you can probably expect to see Thomson and Wilson swap roles, particularly in the line-out where Thomson, the taller by about three inches, will have a key role to play. The back-row trio is completed by Hamish Watson, one of the certainties for Japan.

It will also be interesting to see if Sam Skinner, who starts alongside Scott Cummings in the second row, is asked to move into the back row later in the game to show he can cover both roles.


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"I think he is a second-row who can play blindside," Townsend said. "He started two Test matches at blindside against South Africa and England, pretty big opponents to go up against, so he’s had that experience. He’s really led well this week in a senior section role.

"Like all players it’s an opportunity to show he should be in the final 31 and then the final 15. His specific job is to lead the line-out and work hard this weekend as a second-row. He has that added responsibility he seems to love. He does it well at Exeter."

Further forward, Townsend revealed that Jonny Gray tweaked a hamstring in training and though he is back running is not being risked in this game, handing Scott Cummings his chance to start.

Stuart Hogg, who came off in Nice with cramp, is the only one to keep his spot in the starting side in a highly-experienced back division in which Chris Harris, handed a chance at outside centre, is the only one with fewer than 40 caps.

There were some surprises on the bench, where Allan Dell and Grant Stewart will be on standby to complete the set of all 36 fit players getting a run at some stage in the first two games.

The main one is John Barclay, who came off after the illegal clear-out which earned Paul Gabrillagues, the French lock, a six-week suspension that probably ended his World Cup expectations.

"Initially he wasn’t going to play this week," Townsend said "It was very similar to Stuart Hog – he went off earlier than expected. Both he and Stuart said to me straight after the game ‘we’d love to play next week’.

"We had to wait and see if both of them were fully fit. Both trained yesterday, they weren’t really meant to do contact but both got stuck in and John has recovered really well from what was a pretty nasty knock to the head."