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.
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.”
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.