DAVID BARNES in YOKOHAMA
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.
“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.”