Gregor Townsend expects his new playmaking partnership of Finn Russell and Cameron Redpath to ignite Scotland’s attacking game, starting at Twickenham on Saturday when they will be seeking their first win there since 1983.
The 21-year-old centre Redpath, who played for England at under-20 level and joined Bath last year from Sale, will make his Test debut weeks after pledging his international career to Scotland, the team his father, Bryan, captained in a 60-cap career, while Russell is back at fly-half for his second appearance since a falling out with Townsend a year ago.
“Cam is a real competitor – he has that fearless mindset of wanting to take on the opposition,” Townsend said. “I thought his game for Bath against Exeter in last season’s play-off semi-final was excellent. He was one of the best players on the field that day even though Bath were on the back foot for most of it and when he came on against Bristol last week with his team 40 points down he took the game to the opposition.
“His skill-set is outstanding, running, passing off either hand and kicking, and he is very mature for a 21-year-old. He is already in the leadership group with Bath and he settled in quickly with us and you can see his quality with the questions he asks. He is his own man and one of the discussion points was his partnership with Finn, as well as having one of the best defensive centres in the world, Chris Harris, outside him.”
Scotland won three of their Six Nations matches last year but for once it was their defence that stood out rather than their creative side. “The aim is to be more attack-minded,” said Townsend. “The weather and opposition defences play a factor in gameplans, but we have some outstanding attacking players throughout the team and, if conditions allow, we want them to express themselves.”
If it is 37 years since Scotland last won at Twickenham, although they drew there two years ago and in 1989. Brighton had not won at Anfield since 1982 before this week, a fortnight after Burnley’s first success there for 46 years. Playing matches behind closed doors, stripping grounds of atmosphere, has coincided with unusual results. “It feels more like a neutral venue,” Townsend said.
“The players have become used to playing without crowds and it probably helps anyone, like Cam, making their debut away from home. We want it to feel like another game for him and want to see him do in a Scotland jersey what he has been doing at club level in the last couple of years. We are confident he will handle the step up.”
Redpath is one of five changes from the side that finished the Autumn Nations Cup in Dublin. Russell is another, while Sean Maitland returns on the wing, George Turner starts at hooker, with the uncapped David Cherry on the bench, and Hamish Watson is on the open-side.
England have won their past eight games but did not have to extend themselves in the Autumn Nations Cup before nearly tripping over a reserve France side in the final. Their head coach, Eddie Jones, maintains they will not abandon their kicking game, but his bench provides him with a plan B, laced with attacking options behind, backed up by the pace of the forwards Ben Earl and Courtney Lawes.
“We want to build on what we achieved last year in defence,” Townsend said. “We have an outstanding coach in Steve Tandy and the players have really embraced that side of the game. Rugby is about many things, not just attack and defence, and we know we are going to have to improve if we are going to have success this season. We have been waiting for the Six Nations to start for a wee while.”
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