INDISCIPLINE was the root cause of Scotland’s demise in Dublin earlier today. They conceded 15 penalties to Ireland’s 10 in a match which offered far more entertainment than we have been used to seeing in this Autumn Nations Cup, and the most annoying thing from head coach Gregor Townsend’s perspective will be how many of those infringements were totally avoidable.
The turning point in the match after a highly encouraging first 30 minutes for the away team was the yellow-card shown to inside centre Duncan Taylor for a deliberate knock-on, which was perhaps a marginal call but Townsend said he had no real complaints about the decision.
“You take a risk when you’re coming up to shut down the tackle if the player gets the pass away, so we know that’s something where we’ve seen yellow cards given in the past,” he conceded. “Obviously, that put us under a lot of pressure in our 22, being a man down. Ireland had a lot of possession for that period.
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“To have such a big penalty count against us at Test level, that either equates to three points or it equates to more pressure, kicking into the corner and having to defend on your 22, and if you do that too often then you’re going to either concede more penalties or concede points.
“I think we were on the edge a few times,” Townsend added. “Whether it’s going for ball or being really physical, we’ve just got to know where that edge is because I felt we were comfortable in defence when we weren’t giving away penalties – and the pressure we were putting on Ireland was forcing them to kick, certainly in the first half.”
Focussing on the positives
Despite his clear frustration, Townsend insisted that he was generally encouraged by what had transpired at the Aviva Stadium.
“We’re a work in progress,” he said. “I thought the first 35 minutes was some of the best rugby we’ve played all year and that was probably above expectations given it was a new team today – a new stand-off and a new inside-centre.
“We were physical in defence, physical in attack, finding space – the disappointing and frustrating thing is what happened in the 10 minutes after that.
“Yes, you want to see that long-term development and the team improving but you come here to win games and we went from a position where we felt we could kick on and go and win that game to one where the game went away from us.”
Townsend also had words of praise for debutant Jaco van der Walt, who kicked 11 points and generally looked comfortable at international level playing opposite the highly experienced Jonny Sexton.
“He should be really pleased with the way he performed and that’s on the back to two training sessions. To come in for your first cap on the back of quarantine, meeting your new team-mates, training with them for the first time, and then producing a performance like that – that’s a big positive.
“There were a couple of errors, probably from the excitement of it being his first time playing at this level, but I felt he was physical in defence. We looked to move the ball wider in the second half and there were a few times we did get width and it eventually opened up space for Duhan’s try.”
Onwards and upwards
Next up for Scotland is a trip to Twickenham in February to kick-off the Six Nations against an England side which thumped this Ireland team just a few weeks ago. It is a daunting task, but Townsend insisted that the team is better equipped now to face that challenge than they were at the start of this elongated Autumn campaign almost two months ago.
“We’ve utilised a lot of players and learned a lot about them,” he said. “To see how they’ve fitted in at Test level has been really useful.
“We’ve learned a lot about our set-piece. Our scrum coach Pieter de Villiers came in at the start of the Six Nations and had four games, now he’s had another five to work with the team.
“Forwards coach John Dalziel is also new this year and the way our maul has developed and our lineout defence … I think there are a lot of positives out of that.
“We’ve seen players in this period who maybe wouldn’t have played international rugby or maybe not had as many minutes and that’s been good for them, knowing if they put the effort in in training and come into our camp on form then they will get the opportunity, and now we want to see them take that experience and use it as motivation to play well for their clubs over the next few months.”