Six Nations: Grant Gilchrist says Scotland players, not coaches, are to blame for lapses

Second-row admits that World Cup defeat to Ireland haunted him for weeks afterwards

Grant Gilchrist during Scotland training at Oriam. Image: © Craig Watson -
Grant Gilchrist during Scotland training at Oriam. Image: © Craig Watson -

GRANT GILCHRIST believes the Scotland squad, not the coaching team, are to blame for the on-field deficiencies in this year’s Six Nations Championship. The Edinburgh lock insisted that the players are totally behind head coach Gregor Townsend’s game plans, and said the reason for the collapse against Italy was failure by the squad to adhere to the plan.

Gilchrist also contradicted defence coach Steve Tandy, who said on Tuesday that the mental toughness of the squad could not be questioned. According to the second-row forward, after last year’s Rugby World Cup it was agreed that mental toughness was an issue.

“It’s something that we identified from the World Cup, that we need to be stronger mentally,” Gilchrist said. “We need to manage momentum in games better, and clearly it’s still a work in progress. There’s no quick fixing these things. 

Coming soon … TOL’s round table discuss the male performance pathway

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“At the weekend [against Italy], the blueprint of how we can play was clear – and we did go away from that. Without intentionally doing it we got way too loose. We need to be loads better when we’re under pressure and when the ref’s turned against us. 

“We can watch over the last four games and see just how good we can be. But it can’t be for 40, 50, 60 minutes. It’s not enough. It needs to be for 80 minutes.

“We felt like we prepared well and the game plan was right, but it didn’t marry up with how we played in that period from around the 33rd to the 70th minute. 

“It’s not how we trained, it’s not the plans the coaches have put in place, so who needs to take responsibility? The guys on the pitch.

“For 33 minutes we did what we said we were going to do. It was really effective. We should have been further ahead, but if we had maintained that level of performance, I have no doubt the result would have taken care of itself.

“But the fact that the performance level dropped has to do with the players.

“There are going to be times on Saturday when the momentum is against us – that’s for sure. So we will have a chance to prove we can cope with that.”



Asked if he and his team-mates were totally behind Townsend’s plans, Gilchrist continued: “Hundred per cent, hundred per cent. There’s no question about that. It’s just our ability to stick to a plan and make good decisions under extreme pressure.”

Gilchrist and his team-mates may be able to put the trauma of that 31-29 defeat in Rome behind them as attention shifts to Saturday’s match against Dublin in Ireland. But he still recalls all too clearly a similar trauma  – the 36-14 defeat by Ireland that knocked Scotland out of the World Cup. 

“I was involved in the first try [for Ireland],” he recalled. “And every time I shut my eyes or switched my brain off, that’s what I thought about, for weeks afterwards, because that’s how much I care. 

“When I was busy it was fine. But I’m sure all the boys felt the same: whenever we had any kind of spare time, when you’re in your own head, I was just thinking about that game, because we didn’t show how we can play individually, collectively. That’s what was disappointing.

“We know where we need to be better, and there couldn’t be any more motivation now. We’ve got to go and give it absolutely everything  – based on what happened last time, based on what happened last weekend, and because we’ve got a Triple Crown to play for, we’ve got a Championship position to play for.

“This is still a chance to make a success of this tournament, and that’s what we’re desperate to do.

“We know the strength of the opposition  – they are arguably the best team in the world at the minute. With their home record, you can’t pick a tougher test but that’s a huge excitement for us. 

“We know we’re going to have to be at our very best  – but that’s what we strive to be anyway.”


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Coming soon … TOL’s round table discuss the male performance pathway

About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. Oh boy!…We just talk far too much in the press and say all the wrong things. Even Irish players said they just wait for us to open our mouths to pin the quotes in their dressing room.

    The pre match talking needs to stop or at the very least be limited to nothing but predictable pre match language used by any of the top teams captains/coaches.

    I’ll be surprised if the result is anything much different to a 30-40 point margin Ireland win.

  2. I was hoping after Saturday that the Team would have closed ranks to the press and left their talking to on the pitch in Dublin.

    Disappointed to see Tandy and now Gilchrist come out and give the same old SRU “lines to take”. Along with the usual SRU guff on social media in the lead up to the game.

    This week should have been a siege mentality for the squad, no press, no social media, just 100% focus on putting the doubters back in thier box come Saturday evening in Dublin.

    • Agreed, although pretty sure that the squad and coaches had no say in the matter…. Just the SRU PR machine making them all look daft….

  3. Why is everyone going overboard on this “mentality angle? I would suggest most of the problems should be addressed on the training grounds and gym. Some people are questioning their fitness, that’s down to the Strength and Conditioning coaches. Some are questioning their discipline, that’s down to how they are being coached and how they react on the pitch. Some suggest going off the game plan (what game plan? )that’s down to players and the coaches lack of reaction. I would suggest our skill sets and rugby nous are what are keeping us where we are. Test rugby is split second and it’s gone. If the other guy is smarter than you in that split second you’re done. You can only be as good as you are. You can’t always be as good as you would like to be. If all thirty guys give their absolute best on Saturday then I’m quite willing to accept the outcome. If anyone comes up short then they need to do some hard thinking but I don’t know that they need to rush off to a Mental Ability guru. I’d rather they went back to their clubs and worked harder. The only place reward comes before work is in the dictionary.

    • That Scotland team is good enough to be the clear 2nd best team in the comp but there not. There’s so much talent but they just can’t find what’s required to drag themselves over the line. To be the best you’ve got to think you’re the best and that’s all in the head. A great coach can instil that as well as great leaders on the park but we just don’t have that.

  4. Another one who talks the talk, but when the pressure is on will give away the kind of braindead penalties that cripple us.

    I’d have a bit more respect for him if he said, ‘ach, we try hard to but when it comes down to it we’re just not mentally good enough. Sorry.
    Oh, and by the way,please buy 120 quid tickets for the autumn tests against Argentina and Tonga. Cheers.’

    • That leaped out at me as well! Its definitely a mentality issue when you get into a victim mindset and dont accept the mistakes that are being made, the penalties that are given away and stop them.

    • Indeed. An honest statement would be “when we failed to understand and adapt to the way the game was being refereed”

  5. The interview reads like one of the senior players with a leadership role being thrown under the bus to firm up the coaching staff defences for the post tournament review. Shameful. Gregor Townsend’s job is on the line so after Rome he should have circled the wagons and used the external press and supporter criticism to get a performance out of the team on Saturday that restores their reputation. No puff piece press interviews by coaches or players. Do their talking on the pitch.
    After Murrayfield the England players and coaches took it big style. No public reaction but instead a performance v Ireland of real intent.

  6. Thank you Mr. Gilchrist for your application for the Captaincy, we will contact you accordingly.
    No: I am not trying to be nasty to Gilchrist however IF those thoughts are totally his and he was making the statement off his own back, or whether as some others have suggested a Scripted piece from EH12, it has the ‘feel’ of one or the other.
    A previous article made mention that Townsend said they were all despondent and he would leave the ‘picking them up’ till Monday.
    Searching for my usual ‘Thumbs down’ perhaps he was correct on the uplifting conversation on Monday but Saturday after the game was the time to have asked some searching questions in the dressing room, you have to hope along the lines of ‘what was that performance in the second half or rather lack of it’ Rollicking style of conversation: they were disappointed, so were we.
    I fear for the lads on Friday night in the U20 fixture and as regards Saturday the Irish will be absolutely determined to put in a Home performance and at least come away with the Triple Crown.
    I’m not sure walking out onto the field a la David Sole to deny England of a Slam with determination will work alone, it will take 100% ability for 100% of the game time to even be in with half a chance away in Dublin.
    I wish I could recall the contributor that originally said ‘It’s the hope that kills us’ but anyway, here I go again, here’s hoping.

  7. Frankly a pointless article. A player is not going to say it’s the fault of the coaches is he?

  8. This is very obviously a scripted damage limitation exercise by the SRU’s PR people. Doubts are being raised in all quarters about the coaching, the game plan and the team’s resilience.

    So you put forward a leading player to say it’s all the players’ fault, nothing to do with the coaches.

    The players do not have a say in these PR exercises, they are under contract and have to do their bidden PR bit.

    The idea that Gilcho is doing this ‘to save his place in the team by backing the coaching team’ is well wide of the mark. As said, players do not have a choice in what they are told to say. And I don’t think Gilco’s place in the team needs to be saved, he’s pretty much a nailed-on starter.

  9. This is a managed interview where this was a coached response.

    If he is saying that they can’t stick to a game plan then that points to a larger issue in focus, commitment, and some people on the team not being team players. If you go off reservation on a plan then you need to feel the pain of that in selection.

    Also, this has been a consistent issue for us in the last few years where we have switched off in periods of the game where we were ahead. Its not new. So when is it getting fixed? Who’s switching and why? What are they doing about it?

    All of that is to do with the coaches as much as the players. Accountability is primary in this.

    I’m not reading that from the article.

  10. Reading one of the other threads, where people were questioning picking someone with more controlled aggression as leader because they may not be the first choice in that position…. Therein lies the problem – GT seems to micro-manage and run things and make decisions on stats by individual. The leader doesn’t need to necessarily be the best in a position, just close enough – as they bring so much more out of the team. The problem is holistic, not necessarily in the detail.

    Is the current squad over-managed by process? As someone else said, do all the players really understand what they are being asked to do?

    Maybe back to basics has to be the emphasis again similar to post 19 RWC, when we looked a lot more stable and really solid and aggressive in defence. Players understood their role they had to fulfil and did it exceptionally.

  11. It’s traumatic being a Scotland fan so I can only imagine how it must feel be to be a player. This does feel like a pr exercise though as no one doubts the players care or can learn from gheir mistakes. The big question is do they have the belief and the eye of the tiger and I’m not sure Toony instills that in the team. The permutations are mind boggling for the last round and we still have a chance of a triple crown but having been in Rome at the weekend and Paris for the quarter final I just can’t see us getting anything but you never know.

  12. Scotland are a decent side, but suggest they only lack a real out and out leader on the pitch, but who? Unfortunately we do not have a Peter O’Mahony clone, but Dempsey does a bloody good job of replicating I.e. he’s a nuisance on the pitch, but a quiet lad who goes about his business.
    I really believe they are mentally fragile and the evidence is their to see witnessing the Wales & Italy debacles. I was at the match in Rome, way up in the main stand centre line, and had my binoculars. It was soooo interesting to observe the body language of both sides when they were behind on the score board, Italy were all fight, all encouragement, cajoling etc. but Scottish players, stood staring hands on hips, seemed to withdraw into themselves and demonstrated no urge to cajole and lift each other? It was all very revealing and does suggest a mental block or just simply a lack of leadership?
    Just to fall back onto football for a second as a comparison, can you imagine Roy Keane (Man Utd) captain back in the day, allowing his chargers to fall into this kind of mindset when they’re up against it, don’t think so.
    So, what do all my ramblings mean?
    We DO NOT have a LEADER on the pitch, not a O’Mahony or a Keane, that was clear in both games Wales & Italy, and others we’ve witnessed and until we find this elusive leader I’m afraid this side will meander from game to game, and never achieve a 70 min ish performance nor win consistently. Yes we’ll eek out the odd brilliant performance but will remain in the second tier of world rugger, but should we be surprised, we are a tiny rugger nation, Hmm so is Italy, but look at them go especially there u20’s?
    No final answer I’m afraid, sorry 😔

  13. Everything comes from the coach.

    I’ve mentioned before but the podcast with Callumm Gibbons (All Black) and his “relationship” / dealings with GT are very interesting.

    Add the Finn situation, Hogg Tuipulotu breaking curfew, the successive embarrassing RWCs and the emotional/performance roller coaster that every game seems to be.

    All the above and the fact that 7 years is a very long time to be an international coach, strongly indicate that GT should fall on his sword on Saturday night

    • Indeed. He’s been there far too long and most of what has been achieved on the pitch is in spite of him (having some very talented players) rather than because of GT.

      His reputation as a player and articulacy had kept him there well beyond his expiry date.

  14. Whoever is sanctioning these press interviews needs to have their head examined. Grant is a good guy and may well end up being a fine coach, such is his understanding of the game, but this was just depressing.

    Can you imagine Alyn WJ or P O’Mahony coming out with this? It’s not exactly defiant, stand up and fight stuff is it. He clearly is not in the kind of mental state one needs going into these big games.

  15. Same old same old. Of course he’s going to save his place in the team by ‘backing’ the coaching ticket. Year after year it’s the same thing, ‘ we can be better’ etc etc etc. Wholesale change is needed. Simple as that.


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