#RWC2019: Reaction: Scotland get their pants pulled down

Head coach Gregor Townsend struggles to explain lack of intensity during World Cup opener against Ireland

Scotland v Ireland
Scotland learned a few tough lessons in their World Cup opener against Ireland. Image: Craig Watson
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SCOTLAND head coach Gregor Townsend admitted that his team had failed to show the intensity and aggression required to have a chance of beating Ireland in their World Cup opener, but was at a loss to explain why his side have such a persistent habit of failing to front up at the start of tournaments and Test series’.

This defeat had echoes of the opening game of Townsend’s first Six Nations when Scotland travelled down to Cardiff with high hopes securing a first win in the Principality since 2002 but ended up being smashed 34-7. Scotland also lost heavily to Wales at the start of the November 2018 Autumn series and were perhaps even more abject than they were this weekend in their first World Cup warm-up match against France in Nice last month.

“Disappointing, is the initial thought,” said Townsend. “We didn’t start with the energy, accuracy, aggression that is required to beat a team like Ireland,” the coach continued. “Ireland started very well, and they took their chances when they got into our 22. Probably against any team in world rugby, if you give way a 15 to 20-point start it is going to be very difficult to come back.

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“They just converted mistakes into territory, mistakes into points directly, they’ve got a template we all know about and if you do give chances in your third of the field, they will take them. They went to the driving line-out a few times, and a couple of times we gave them loose ball that they attacked off like the turnover which led to a scrum five [leading up to the third try], so they turned any pressure we had on them into real pressure on our line.”

Townsend was challenged on how it is possible for the team lack energy at the start of such an important game. ‘That’s what we’re asking each other,” he replied. “The energy was there but it wasn’t as high as it has to be to beat a team like Ireland. Whether it wasn’t there in the warm-up or because a few players hadn’t played for two or three weeks … we had trained really well, but we missed the start of that game, which is really disappointing.

“I would say there are examples of us starting well in games so if you go back a number of years then you can dig out anything really,” he added, trying to dismiss the suggestion of a pattern having developed. “We missed that first 20 minutes and Ireland started really well and put points on the board.”

Time for a change of philosophy?

There is a suspicion that Scotland’s free-wheeling rugby philosophy under Townsend leaves them exposed if the team does not click immediately, but Townsend indicated that he does not plan to revert to a more limited and structured game-plan.

“We have to be more accurate. There were times when our game put Ireland under pressure. Through some of our kicking and getting the ball to the wider channels in the first half, and through tighter play in the second half. We feel the game we play can pressure opposition when we are accurate, that involves running the ball, kicking and defence, and all those aspects have to be much better if we are to progress into the quarter-finals and I believe they will.

“There was handling errors from both teams. The ball was wet because the rain had fallen before. Some of the errors we were getting from Ireland were down to good kick pressure, and some of the errors that we made were down to their defensive pressure, so it was a high turnover game. I think both teams recorded 20 turnovers, partly due to the weather and partly due to good defence.

“I suppose if you go wide and there is space there and you execute then you have earned the right, if you haven’t narrowed up the defence then you haven’t. So, sometimes we found space there. Twice we got a lot of yards in a wide channel and we missed the ruck, which is very disappointing – to not get that next phase when you’ve got in behind their defence.”

Destiny still in their hands

The coach added that the defeat doesn’t change anything for his team in terms of the challenge they face in the remaining pool matches.

“We need to win our next three games. Whether or not the result had been different today, we would have needed to win the next three games. We have to bounce back and play a lot better against Samoa and carry that on to Russia and especially Japan, who have started the tournament well,’ he stated.

“There is disappointment. When you are part of a squad that is building up for your first game and you don’t play your best, then you are disappointed. The players are disappointed. We didn’t give our best version of ourselves tonight, and when you do that against the best teams in the world, they will punish you. The World Cup has just begun, we need to play much, much better over our next three games if we are going to make it out of this pool, but I believe in this squad’s ability to bounce back and be much better against Samoa in eight days’ time.”

#RWC2019: Ireland deliver a brutal lesson to hapless Scotland in tournament opener

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David Barnes
About David Barnes 1987 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. The remedy for the team not firing seems to be: “be better”, “eliminate the mistakes”… Well, I don’t suppose they went into this game intendingtm to not be good, to not care if they made mistakes.
    If we are so dependent on miracles coming off, “clicking immediately” as David Barnes writes, then that is a strategy so fragile as to be vulnerable to any strong and focused team.
    Of course we love when it works, the beauty of our backs in mesmerising full-flowing, free expression, but it’s been all too easy for the big boys in the playground to laugh at our fancy dance moves, shove us to the ground and steal our ball.
    As many others have said, it’s all a bit reminiscent of GT as a player… a genius when it comes off, but many, many times just too self indulgent an made far too many mistakes, leaving his team exposed.

  2. There have been signs of Townsend’s tactical ineptitude since he took over. The drubbing in Cardiff in 2018 was followed by stronger performances, then he dropped form players and was extremely fortunate to emerge victorious in Rome. In more recent memory is Twickenham, where we might as well have stayed in the dressing room for the first half, then looked unplayable in the second. None of that even vaguely suggests any tactical mastery from the team’s coach, but it does suggest we have the players to capitalise on a tailored, intelligent plan.

    I know we’ve had injuries, some of them long-term, but that was not an issue on Saturday, even if the squad could have featured two fewer Townsend darlings and been improved simply by that. We play Ireland every year, we know what they can do, but we just stood back and let them get on with it, offering little for them to concern themselves with. We had two superb centres on the pitch, who hardly featured in the game. We needed quick ball from the breakdown, as the team is supposedly founded on that, so who do you call for quick ball? Not Greig Laidlaw.

    Wilson was picked because he’s abrasive. How about picking someone whjo might make it into a team not coached by Townsend? We had Tommy Seymour on the wing, whose form has been as consistent as the team’s and Darcy Graham, who is solid going forward and in defence, but had little time to confirm his form is better. Losing Hamish Watson certainly didn’t help, but he’d had little impact before his unfortunate innjury occurred. Chucking the ball to the well-known and well-marked Stuart Hogg is not a tactic.

    When the team shines, it shines brightly, but the lights are off in Townsend’s head. It would be lovely to think we could extend a hand to Cotter and say “Sorry, we should never have asked you to leave.”, but life’s not like that. The outstanding candidate in the Scottish game currently coaches Edinburgh, but I don’t know who else is out there, interested and available. I do know I have no faith in Gregor Townsend and this tournament leaves nowhere for any coach to hide.

  3. Townsend needs to go he relied on experience and they came up short by a long way, should of brought youth to the world cup because they certainly couldn’t of done any worse. Vern was onto a good thing Townsend has taking us backwards he isn’t ready for international level yet

  4. Gregor’s comments pretty revealing. We lacked intensity and aggression. Why? Because that is exactly what Gregor, charming chap though he is, lacks himself. The experiment must be over. The fault, though lies clearly at the doorstep of the SRU. We do have some good players, and growing strength in depth, but the outcomes achieved by the coaching team are not up to tier one level. High time for a change before our current crop of players is squandered.

  5. Seems to me that more than anything else Scotland need a very good shrink on the team – what else can explain a collective lack of mental readiness for what was always going to be an in-your-face munstering up front> I’d wager they have
    n’t got one…

    • Totally agree with this comment. The performances in recent years have become increasingly flaky, often lurching between horrendous and terrific. I don’t doubt the squad has a sport psychologist on the coaching team, but we need to do much more in that department to bring the consistency of approach that is demanded of a tier one nation.

    • It’s a simple as this , Townsend gave the SRU an ultimatum when at Warriors, they caved in and gave him the top job. He flattered to deceive there (winning one Pro12 does not make a tier one international coach) and he continues to do so now. We had a world class tier one coach in Cotter, we let him go for a “show pony” and it’s totally predictable what would and has happened, it will continue to do so until the SRU actually end this damaging love affair and tell Gregor to go, now.

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