Gregor Townsend has called on Scotland to take their game “up to another level” in their final World Cup warm-up match against Georgia on Saturday as he dismissed any notion of wrapping his key men in cotton wool ahead of the looming global showpiece.
The head coach has made six changes to the XV that started the narrow defeat away to France last time out.
Blair Kinghorn, George Turner, Richie Gray, Pierre Schoeman and the suspended Zander Fagerson are the only players not involved this weekend who are expected to start Scotland’s pool opener against South Africa in Marseille on September 10.
“We certainly want to give players another chance to build on the performances so far,” Townsend said.
“As a team, we have to take our game up to another level as we move towards the World Cup, so playing as many of those combinations that we believe will play against South Africa in two weeks’ time is really important.
“Not only do you get to play the game, you get to train in the build-up to the game – the starting team trains together – so another week of that to build cohesion is crucial for us so that we play close to our best rugby in that game against South Africa.”
Asked if there was any temptation to keep his key players on the sidelines this weekend in order to avoid pre-tournament injury or suspension, Townsend said: “No. Getting players to the World Cup is just one thing, getting players in their best form and the team playing its best rugby is what is important here.
“We’re hoping to beat the world champions – the number three team in the world – in our first game, so we’re not going to do that if players haven’t had match experience and, as a team, we haven’t had another opportunity to improve.
“Yeah, there are some changes to the team from the last France game, and that’s us either looking at more minutes for other players or looking at other combinations, as we finalise in our minds what that final 23 will be come September 10th.”
The most notable inclusion in the starting XV is scrum-half Ben White who admitted recently that he feared his World Cup dream was in jeopardy when he limped off with a “really concerning” ankle injury in the home victory over France two and a half weeks ago and missed the rematch in Saint-Etienne the following Saturday.
“He’s recovered really well,” said Townsend. “It’s great that he gets an opportunity to play minutes. He didn’t play that long against France and obviously missed the second game against them.
“Just to have him playing again will give him confidence as we go to the World Cup. He’s trained fully this week and looks back to where he was going into that home game against France.
“He’s even said that his ankle feels better than it did back then so it’s a real positive sign.”
Townsend reported that full-back Kinghorn is now fully fit despite being excluded from this weekend’s 23-man squad due to a minor injury.
“Blair had a niggle after the game in Saint-Etienne, so he didn’t train last week with the group. He didn’t train this Monday either but is now fully fit,” he explained.
“We had two days of training last week with a team in mind to start against Georgia. If we had left the decision a bit later, he would have been in the mix for this weekend.”
Townsend, whose side have beaten Italy and France in their two previous home Tests this summer, is hoping this weekend’s match serves as a rousing send-off for the Scots ahead of the World Cup.
“Playing in France two weeks ago was fantastic, the atmosphere was amazing, but to play here when the players will have their families and we will have a big support behind us, that’s a great way to end three months of training and hard work,” he said.
“It will be nice at the end of the game, if we have played well and get the win, for the players to get that time with their families and the support, to really connect again before we head off.”
Scotland team to face Georgia in World Cup warm-up match
Forwards: 1 Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors), 2 Dave Cherry (Edinburgh Rugby), 3 WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), 4 Sam Skinner (Edinburgh Rugby), 5 Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby), 6 Jamie Ritchie (CAPTAIN, Edinburgh Rugby), 7 Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors), 8 Jack Dempsey (Glasgow Warriors)
Backs: 9 Ben White (Toulon), 10 Finn Russell (Bath Rugby), 11 Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby), 12 Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors), 13 Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors), 14 Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby), 15 Ollie Smith (Glasgow Warriors)
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman (Edinburgh Rugby), 17 Rory Sutherland (unattached), 18 Javan Sebastian (Edinburgh Rugby), 19 Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors), 20 Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), 21 George Horne (Glasgow Warriors), 22 Ben Healy (Edinburgh Rugby), 23 Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby)