GREGOR TOWNSEND urged his team to enjoy the moment after their sensational Calcutta Cup victory over England, so long as they come back into camp with their heads fully screwed on and their focus trained on using the experience as the launchpad to an even bigger achievement in Dublin in two weeks’ time.
Scotland’s record on the road in the Six Nations does not make for pretty reading. The last time they won an away match in the tournament against any team other than Italy was when Ireland were defeated 23-20 at Croke Park in 2010. So, when the coach was asked if the squad were now allowing themselves to think about the possibility of challenging for the Championship this season, he was quick to suggest that it would be foolish to put the cart before the horse.
“We know we’ve got Ireland who are an outstanding team with a great home record. We’ve got our own issues to deal with about being better away from home, and that’s going to be our focus when we come back into camp in a week’s time. We have to show a truer picture of what we’re about when we play away from home, and we’ll see where that takes us,” he said.
“We want to improve. It is about progressing. It’s about finding a way to win but getting better. Getting better during games and getting better game to game,” he added.
“It was much more like the standard of performance that we put in during November. Last time we found a way to win but we probably weren’t playing at our best, that was getting closer. We now have to move onto our next two games and make sure we improve.”
Townsend wasn’t being a complete curmudgeon, and the players would be allowed to celebrate their achievement after the match before being brought back down to earth.
“From a coaching perspective, that’s the biggest win I’ve had. We came very close to beating the number one team in the world in November, and we’ve now taken on the number two team – a team that’s been very consistent – and we’ve won the game. We believed we had to play a certain way to win the game, and we executed that really well,” he said.
“The first half of this game, and the first half of the NZ game were similar, in our intent to play the way we believed would be a success, and our accuracy. Our defence was outstanding in both those games. The difference tonight was that we finished off opportunities and took them really well.”
“The second half was always going to be a tighter affair. They were going to come back, they adjusted to certain things we were doing, and the ball was certainly slower in the second half for us.”
Excellent second half resolve
“It wasn’t the complete performance, but the way we defended in the second half, especially in the last two minutes, was excellent. When the clock ticked to 80, we were still defending very well, keeping England out. That was very satisfying and we’re very proud of the players’ effort there.”
Townsend singled out captain John Barclay for particular praise. The blind-side flanker struggled to impose himself during the first two rounds of the championship in the same way he did in November, but was a giant for the home side on this occasion.
“He was great. He was determined to play well. He got subbed with 20 minutes to go in the last game and he wasn’t going to get subbed today the way he was playing,” said Townsend. “We felt that the breakdown was an area we could have opportunities and John, Hamish [Watson], and other guys as well, managed to get on ball very quickly.”
“If England were only going to put one player in or weren’t accurate in that area, we were going to get rewards and John was a big part of that.
“It’s a players’ game. We identified a couple of areas where we felt that we could get turnovers in the way we defend but we felt at other times that it would be better to not compete because England are so dangerous with their two playmakers at 10 and 12. The players felt that almost every breakdown was one that there was a chance of slowing the ball down or winning it. It was tough in the second half. England obviously started to put more numbers in but we still got some crucial penalties from the way the players were competing.”
Russell answers his critics
Stand-off Finn Russell also answered a few critics with a magnificent virtuoso performance.
“You will have to ask him if he was fired up by the criticism,” said Townsend. “Finn was outstanding for us in November, taking on the best teams in the world in New Zealand and Australia. He was world class.
“He hasn’t had the best of starts to the Six Nations but his second half against France was very good and today he played like he did in November.
“We ask a lot of our 10s as a supporting group and there are going to be errors. The pleasing thing was seeing Finn playing the rugby we know he can play which is putting passes to people who are in space.
“He tackled very, very well. I thought he was outstanding in defence. Making good decisions on kicking and when to run, he had a real balance to his game and obviously he created a lot of space for us with the way he was engaging with the forwards. I think he can kick on from here.
“Every player is going to go through a phase when the defence has maybe done something different … or maybe they have not got into the game as quickly as they would want to. But he was well prepared for today, trained very well during the week and had a really good focus.”