Gregor Townsend targeting Scotland improvement as he welcomes back Hamish Watson

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Gregor Townsend is looking for his Scotland team to make the most of any opportunity to use the ball in the second Test against Argentina as he welcomed the chance to pick his first-choice back row.

Hamish Watson will return from a shoulder injury to win his 50th Scotland cap on Saturday while fellow flanker Rory Darge is also back in the starting line-up following injury.

Townsend has made five changes in all following a 26-18 defeat in the opening Test, when Scotland failed to recover from a poor first half which saw them restricted to kicking two penalties, struggling to get into the opposition half with ball in hand, and conceding two late tries.

Townsend said: “It’s a cup semi-final and we have got to make sure we put our game out there. We didn’t do that at the weekend. We were, I suppose, frustrated with the performance and the errors that we made but frustrated with the game, it became stop-start. It was the lowest ball-in-play time we have ever had as a team.

“But if that happens at the weekend we have got to make sure that, when the ball is in play, for either team, we play much better.

“We know this tour is about a number of things: it’s about seeing a group of players coming together for four weeks and seeing how that environment is; it’s about giving players opportunities, but it is about winning. It’s about winning a Test series and we have made it more difficult for ourselves now not winning the first Test. But all of our efforts are getting put into winning this weekend.”

Gregor Townsend
Townsend was full of praise for Watson (Steve Welsh/PA)

Watson replaces Edinburgh team-mate Luke Crosbie in the line-up for the encounter in Salta to reach a half-century of international appearances.

“It’s a tremendous achievement for him and a proud moment for his family,” Townsend said.

“I’m glad it is happening now because he missed out in the Six Nations. He had Covid for the France week, so he was stuck on 49 caps. Ideally I would have loved to have started him last week but he picked up a shoulder injury.

“But he has trained fully this week and he has been excellent on tour as well. He is one of our leaders now, he is in the leadership group, and he has really thrived in that role. We expect him to play very well.”

Rory Darge
Darge made an impact in the Six Nations with a try against France (Jane Barlow/PA)

Darge fought back from a knee injury which looked to have prematurely ended his breakthrough season when he came off the bench against the Pumas last weekend. The 22-year-old Glasgow forward will make his fourth start for Scotland.

“He was one of our best players in the Six Nations and I’m really delighted he is now able to start for us,” Townsend said.

“Hamish obviously wasn’t able to start last week so that was our starting back-row in the last two games in the Six Nations and we want to see them build on those performances.

Ben White replaces Ali Price at scrum-half to make his first start for Scotland. The London Irish player made a try-scoring debut against England earlier this year and won his fifth cap off the bench in Jujuy last Saturday.

Ben White
Ben White scored against England on his Scotland debut (Jane Barlow/PA)

“He is brilliant to work with,” Townsend said of the 24-year-old. “He has integrated really well to the squad and he is just such a hard worker. He is usually last off the training field, usually one of the top performers in terms of work-rate in training, but he is on his game. He has got a really good kicking game, he is strong defensively, and he has got a really good eye for a break.

“The three scrum-halves we have on tour are really pushing each other and we wanted to give Ben an opportunity on this tour to start. He has come off the bench for us and since the Six Nations he played really well for London Irish, he got a lot more starts for them. We think this is the right game for him to start.”

Townsend, who has a fully-fit squad, has also recalled hooker Dave Cherry and second-row forward Sam Skinner, who will play alongside skipper Grant Gilchrist. Magnus Bradbury, Crosbie and Jonny Gray drop out of Townsend’s match-day squad, while London Irish winger Kyle Rowe could make his debut from the bench.

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