Italy v Scotland reaction: Townsend backs team to build on gritty win

Head coach believes that his team can cause an upset against France if they manage to add attacking fluency to their solid defensive work

Gregor Townsend believes his team will take confidence from 10 minute spell just after half-time. Image: DANIELE RESINI / FOTOSPORT
Gregor Townsend believes his team will take confidence from 10 minute spell just after half-time. Image: DANIELE RESINI / FOTOSPORT

GREGOR TOWNSEND believes the confidence boost his side will take from this afternoon’s victory over Italy will help them to build on the good aspects of their performance ahead of taking on Grand Slam chasing France in two weeks’ time.

“That 10 minute period [just after half-time] was the best we played. We scored a good try [through Chris Harris] and created space for Adam [Hastings] to go through, although we didn’t connect with the offload. If we can put that on top of our defensive work, we’ll be a very tough opponent for France,” he said.

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The coach has been criticised in recent weeks for shifting towards a more conservative game-plan with concerns expressed that some of the precocious attacking talent at his disposal is being neutralised, but Townsend is unapologetic about his focus on making sure the team are harder to beat.

“The nothing [conceding no points] is the most important thing for us,” he said. “When you come away from home against any team and don’t concede a try, you don’t concede a point, you know you have put in a good defensive performance. The way the game was played, there was mistakes from both teams, so a huge encouragement is how we got back and scrambled in defence. That effort and togetherness, and to get the turnovers as well, was very pleasing.

But that doesn’t mean Townsend, who forged his career as a player and a coach on his his attacking principles, has given up on the need to stretch teams when in possession.

“[We’re looking for] a bit more fluency and accuracy in our attack,” he said. “Our best performance was Ireland, but today was a win and that means a lot more than getting a losing bonus point. We know we can be better than we showed today in attack, but maybe that was part of the fixture and how important it was for us, and maybe something to do with being in Italy with a different atmosphere. We know we have to be better but lets build on the confidence this game gives us as we look to develop our attack in the last two games and play our best rugby.

“We didn’t score a try in the first two games and today we left maybe three or four tries out there. We’re not going to take all our chances, but taking a couple of chances would have allowed us to kick on from being in an arm-wrestle at 10-0.”

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Townsend also had words of praise for full-back Stuart Hogg, who has endured a tough first few weeks in the captaincy but has stuck to his guns and got his reward in this game with an excellent 60-yard try.

“It was a world class try and he looked lively as well at other moments,” said the coach. “I thought his decision-making at the back – when to have a run and when to put more kick pressure on Italy – was very good. It is brilliant for him to get that win as a captain, and to have a big part in that with his performance and his try.

“We discussed how there was going to be tough times – any Scotland captain is going to experience wins and losses. Speaking to the media after a defeat or picking up the players on a Monday after a defeat is something you have to go through. I think his lowest point was the press conference after the England game, but getting back to Exeter last week was a really good thing for him. He trained on Monday and Tuesday after playing two Test matches back-to-back, he was just really professional and full of energy, scored a great try for them and for us today.

Townsend wouldn’t be drawn on the likelihood of exiled playmaker Finn Russell returning to face France, but it continues to look highly unlikely. “We’ll see,” was all the coach would say on that specific issue.

Centre Chris Harris failed a Head Injury Assessment midway through the second half, but there are no other fresh injury concerns. Townsend sounded hopeful rather than confident about the possibility of winger Darcy Graham getting over the knee injury he suffered pre-tournament in time to play against France.

“Darcy didn’t come through training next week. We’ll see how he goes next week but he might not be available for France,” he said.

Italy v Scotland: Townsend’s team get what they need from Roman tussle

About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I was pretty deflated by that performance also on Saturday, our accuracy was poor and this seems to be theme now in our attack play which going back only 2-4 years ago was our undoubted strength! Dropped balls on the line, lack of intensity in attack at times. However let’s put things in some kind of perspective, we are low on confidence and even when not at our best we still won 0-17 away to Italy. We scored 3 tries, shut out Italy completely and should have racked up 25-30 points easily. How often could we have said that about Scotland travelling to Rome in the last 20 years?

    The attack looks poor and this needs to be addressed, Russell aint coming back under this regime so we need to get behind Hastings. Yes he is raw, but so was Finn when he was 22/23! Hastings is about 4-5 years behind Russell in his development and has been thrust in as starting fly-half for Scotland through bizarre circumstances. He has undeniable talent, but he is gonna make mistakes. I predict in 2-3 years Hastings will be a real quality operator.

    The defence looks very good and Tandy has clearly done some great work there, we now look comfortable actually defending as a collective and this is day/night from 2019. Clearly that is where the foundations need to lie for any effective test team. The problem is that with this new found defensive resilience we seem to be negating some of our instinctive attacking skill and flair, we have gone from going wide all the time with abandon to almost never going wide. Surely the coaches can see this and will be trying to work on a more joined up and balanced approach.

    Townsend has all but lost me as he has many of the other fans on here, but I am willing to give him one more crack and see how we perform at home to France. If we can find our A Game and beat France we can at least salvage this campaign as a resonable one. I do think we have the players do better, let’s see if they can in 2 weeks. If we lose and lose badly though, I feel time will (and should) be up for the current manager

  2. I actually felt a little deflated after the game and a little sorry for that Italian team. They look even more lost than normal. One area I’m impressed by is the job Steve Tandy has done with the defence, our attack has regressed but the defence is the best in years. France will come in bullish mood but I fancy the pressure will be on them and we might just spring a surprise.

  3. We won …away from home … no points conceded … job done !
    Hogg, lets try him in the centre please , could be dynamite in that position.
    Kinghorn, get him some tackling lessons and how to cover in defence , as an attacking wing, he can do a job !
    Young Hastings, he might , just might , be as good as his old man at fullback !
    Finn Russell, head down , be the bigger man , apologies and come back and prove how much we’ve missed you !
    All the squad , fully fit …. last 2 games could be very very good !

  4. This is a strange 6 Nations, probably because of all the new coaches, but the inconsistencies make relative performance harder to gauge. We could have beaten Ireland, who then soundly beat Wales. An inept Italy scored a few points against the all-conquering France, but none against Wales or us. Wales looked poor against Ireland, but gave France a run for their money and England have Eddie Jones in charge, so no-one knows what they’ll do.

    One glaring weakness in Dublin and At Murrayfield was our inability to keep the ball at the breakdown. I didn’t think Hamish Watson was at his best, but he looked far more effective in Rome. Haining had a good debut and warranted more opportunities, but I appreciate age is not on his side and building a core of players for the next world cup is sensible. I had thought speedier service from Price would make a difference when Laidlaw became unavailable but we need Russell to capitalise on that. Hastings had a nightmare on Saturday.

    Our defence has been good so far, but our attack lacks bite, with only Harris’ try coming from a combined move. Hogg’s try was just Hogg being Hogg and Hastings’ try a reflection of a poor game. We have the backs outside 10 to cause problems for any team and a robust enough pack, but they’re just not getting involved and that has to change for us to be in a position to score more points than our opponents.

    It looks like We’ll have to survive without Russell in the short-term and have to consider other options at 10, as we’re not capitalising on the possession we do have. For me, Hogg should also be considered captain in name only, with McInally starting at 2 and assuming the role of leader on the pitch.

    Neither Edinburgh or Glasgow have promising young 10s in their ranks, so, if Townsend survives to take the team on the summer tour, we’ll need someone else for the squad.

  5. What dreariness from glas-half-empty keyboard warriors.

    Russell is a primadonna who has lost not just the confidence of his coach but of his teammates. If/when he ever comes back, will they trust him not to throw another juvenile hissy fit?

    Our team just nilled a 6 nations team away. And folk are still girning. Get a grip.

    • The lack of progress ambition and entertainment is getting us down. Yesterday was mediocre but some commentators are talking as though we have turned the corner. Get real.

  6. Time is up Toonie! Seriously Dude, it’s time to hang up the clipboard. The groundbreaking coaching experiment of confusing the opposition with panic and lack of organisation hasn’t worked. I’m guessing we’ll try it another 2 times before sanity kicks in. Then Toonie, you can tell all the press it was everyone else’s fault but yours and you’re actually a groundbreaking visionary coach just ahead of your time.

  7. A win at last after 2 defeats in a row still not convinced.A Poor Italy posed no threat to Scotland it should have been a cricket score for Scotland.
    Comments posted pressure is of Townsend and SRU ? Is it not just beginning 2 games to play to complete 6 nations, be under no illusion these teams will cause Scotland massive problems.
    This is the time for Townsend and the SRU to get Russell back at 10, if he wants to come back ???

    • Townsend probably wants Russell to play the way Townsend tells him to. Townsend was a stand-off when he played, you know. (Although not very good at stand-off, he’d have been better as a wing.)
      Why would Russell want that? It’s like telling Einstein not to put the letter “c” in his equations.
      The whole framework of rugby has changed. Playing for your country was an honour and a Lions tour was fun and a rare opportunity to play the Southern Hemisphere teams. Not now. To risk life and limb when you play for your country, when you are a well paid professional? No point. The only reason for a professional player to play for his country is to put himself on show, to demonstrate his skills and genius.

  8. When is a win not a win? When it results in a poor manager continuing to manage poorly.
    Hogg confounded critics such as myself, up to a point. I’m not sure that he is the best captain. The team played somewhat incoherently. The hash-bash approach is useless unless your side is physically stronger. Even then it is horrible to watch. We want to see running backs, playing quick, clever rugby. This wasn’t it.
    One can imagine that Italy will improve. They are trying to do the right thing. Scotland have deteriorated, and show no signs of improving. New players will be pushed into the mould and be required to conform to what is not merely tedious but a recipe for continually losing.

  9. Target achieved – we won the match.

    Not pretty but we did it. Still big questions about our approach with the same old problems rearing their head. Poor decision making, stupid penalties and lack of precision.

    The tests against France and Wales will be fascinating. What will their coaches take away from our match? I’m thinking they won’t be unduly concerned if their respective teams play anything like they both did in Cardiff.

  10. Scotland have learnt nothing from their previous two defeats….apart from Hogg not dropping a ball having crossed the goal line!
    Fundamentally repeating the same errors in both handling, kicking beyond touch and encouring needless penalties, along with today.. Hastings 3 miss-kicks in front of the posts
    Can’t quite get the handle with after his failure he appears to smile towards his compatriots.

    • Agree with these comments – Scotland should have been playing to ensure that they were playing for all the pints – there are 5 on offer not 4 but that doesn’t seem drilled into the players – the same is true at club level too incidentally. England Wales and Ireland would have come away with 5 points against a poor Italy team.

      Clean sheet was a plus however.

  11. How can Townsend be happy with this performance today .what planet is he on
    Was one of the worst international matches I’ve had the misfortune to watch. Wales. V France was on another level
    Italy were poor but Scotland matched them .
    Townsend has to go now or wer’e going further down the ladder.
    Get Russell back .get Toonie out

    • This was ill informed twaddle. We nilled an emerging Italy side and in the process got the largest away winning margin for Scotland in the modern rugby era. Well played to the team, and the coaches for that matter. They did us proud. We’ve only conceded two tries in three games. A remarkable achievement.


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