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Townsend begins Scotland’s preparations for World Cup

The coach will see his side end their Six Nations campaign against Italy.

Gregor Townsend admits he has already started his preparation for next year’s World Cup after seeing Scotland’s NatWest 6 Nations title quest snubbed out.

The Dark Blues had to beat Ireland in Dublin last weekend to keep their championship push alive going into Saturday’s curtain-closer with Italy in Rome.

But a 28-8 defeat to Joe Schmidt’s Grand Slam chasers now means they head to the Stadio Olimpico with little else than pride to play for.

However, Townsend now says the 18-month countdown to the World Cup in Japan has already begun.

Scotland face the hosts as well as Ireland and two yet-to-be confirmed qualifiers and the head coach wants to ensure there is no false dawn in Japan.

“It’s in the back of our minds,” he said after naming a side the features five changes to the team beaten in the Aviva Stadium, with forwards Zander Fagerson and Richie Gray also returning from injury to claim places on the bench.

“We have brought two players in who have not featured for us this season in Zander and Richie. Those are two guys who have been key for Scotland in the past and will be in the future.

“So we do have an eye on involving these players if we believe they are back in form and full fitness to look ahead to summer and next season – but also next year for the World Cup which is just 18 months away.”

For now, Townsend is keen Scotland end their current campaign on a high.

Victory at the Stadio Olimpico will see the Scots finish the championships with three victories out of five for the second year running and while that is little consolation after missing out on landing the main prize, Townsend does believe it represents progression.

Townsend said: “If we were to lose two in a row that would be pretty disappointing, given the effort we have put in. Losing your last game is never enjoyable. 

“Winning against Italy would be progress. It would show the players have learned.

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Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend believes his side are moving forward having beaten England and France so far

“Are we still improving? Yes. You have to look at games between Six Nations campaigns as well. We could have shown more consistency, but there have been some excellent performances in the last two years. But we have a big challenge ahead and we want to play better than we did against Ireland and get a win.”

Making the most of opportunities is not something Townsend’s team had much luck with against the Irish as they passed up three golden chances to put pressure on the new champions.

But Townsend hopes his side will be sharper against the Azzuri after freshening up his starting XV with the recall of Tommy Seymour, Nick Grigg, Fraser Brown, WP Nel and Tim Swinson.

He said: “The changes were partly made in mind of who we’re playing against. With the challenges they present and the things we are looking to do in our game plan, the players picked are suited to do that.

“Tommy coming back from injury is a boost. He would have been selected last week had it not been for the knock. We also have quality players available now – Richie has played two games so he comes onto the bench. Zander has trained for three weeks. It is the right time to bring them back.”

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