GREGOR TOWNSEND last night invited criticism of his team after a woeful performance which resulted in a humiliating 34-7 defeat in Wales, to get off to the worst possible start in this year’s Six Nations campaign.
“We should be criticised for today’s performance, be it from you guys [media], the supporters who were down here or from ourselves. We know that was well short of what is required playing for Scotland,” said the Scotland coach. “But we have an opportunity to put things right this week. We come together a few times in a season and now, just over two months after we played Australia, the shock is that we played so badly given that we played so well in that last game.
“The first 15 minutes was a bizarre Test match as it was so open. We made some breaks in that period, we went wide and we turned over the ball, then they made breaks and turned over that ball. It wasn’t what you’d describe as a Six Nations game and we needed to be a bit more accurate to make more of the possession we had in the opposition 22, but the early try Wales got really sapped our confidence and gave them momentum to go back and score another.”
“Something got to us and we played nothing like we can play,” he added. “We weren’t focused or accurate enough and our defensive shape wasn’t what we’d like. Whether that was the nature of the game or a lack of focus, I don’t know.”
“We weren’t accurate right across the board, so whether that was in the decisions to go wide at times, or just getting numbers to breakdown, or making the right passing decisions, or losing set-piece ball which allowed Wales more possession.”
“But now we have four games, and the next one comes up quickly, and we have to be much, much better.”
Townsend was asked how the team can change things around in eight days before France arrive at Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon.
“It will be words, but I am confident we will. I believe in the players, believe in what they have produced in training and games before today, and in their determination to put it right at home,” he replied. “We have to make sure that the next time we go on the road, which will be to Dublin, we have to be much, much better than we were today.
“Playing in front of our own supporters will give the players energy and a boost, but we’ll need more than that considering how poorly we played today,” he added.
There was echoes of Scotland’s capitulation at Twickenham in the last Six Nations, which raises question about the team’s mental toughness and their ability to adapt when things are going against them.
“You get moments to come together in huddles and your key decision makers have to come together, too – your captain and half-back – and I believe those conversations went pretty well, but there was an element of chasing the game,” conceded Townsend.
“We need to have response throughout this week. That was miles below what we know we are capable of and what we need to do in this championship.
“The championship is always a highly contested affair. We were badly beaten today, it was a defeat, but there weren’t many away victories last year and we just have to make sure that we play much better next week.’
Meanwhile, Scotland captain John Barclay struggled to vocalise his thoughts in the aftermath of such a morale busting experience.
“We didn’t defend particularly well, when we had the ball we didn’t look after it particularly well, and our lineout creaked a little bit. When you don’t do those three things very well you are not going to win and we got beat comfortably in the end,” he said.
“We believed we could come back into the game. At half time, it was 14-0 and then we just couldn’t get our attack functioning in the second half. It’s not clear to me yet, these things normally become clear when you look back at the video. So, it’s hard to understand why it didn’t work.
“It’s hard to know [whether you are defending too narrowly] when you are in the middle and trying to work it out,” he continued. “Obviously we tried to problem solve, they were coming up the guts as well and it’s the hardest to recover from when someone goes straight through the middle because the defence is split and then they can hit us on the outside after that.”
He echoed his coach’s belief that all is not lost.
“A lot of these things can be fixed. It’s a four-game championship. We 100% came down here wanting to win and it would have been fantastic to win but the flip side of that is that it is not the end of the championship for us. We have four more games and we have to kick on.”
“It’s hard to speak after a defeat like that. It’s pretty raw. A lot of its the mental side of the game. We have to look at it and decide where we went wrong and turn it around. And a lot of these things have to be fixed off the pitch, before we get on it – look at it, do the analysis and decide if we did everything we should have done. We are a straight bunch of guys, everyone is honest, no one is going to hide behind anything.”