GREGOR TOWNSEND believes that Finn Russell produced one of his best performances in a Scotland jersey during this [Saturday] afternoon’s Calcutta Cup victory over England at Murrayfield.
“I thought he had an outstanding game today,” said the Scotland head coach. “He had a couple of really good kicks in the first half into the bottom right corner. His attacking kicks for Duhan [van der Merwe] and Darcy [Graham] were obviously very accurate, and his goal-kicking was excellent. He’s been practising that a lot at his club even though he’s not kicking all that often for Racing.
“But I felt he managed the game too, there was a lot of pressure on him in terms of line-speed from the opposition, but he was picking the right player to pass to. The last 10 to 15 minutes were our best attacking sequences and Finn was at the heart of that. That’s saying something when you see the weather conditions, because that’s when they were the worst of the game. That was one of his best performances for Scotland, really pleasing.”
The Scots now head to Cardiff next Saturday to face last year’s champions, who will be desperate to bounce back from their mauling at the hands of Ireland earlier this afternoon. There is echoes of last year, when Townsend’s team kicked off their Six Nations campaign with an impressive win over England but came a cropper against unfancied Wales. However, Townsend insisted that this time can and will be different.
“Every game is different,” he insisted. “Last year we started really well, and that showed the confidence the players had from their win at Twickenham. We were 17-3 up so how we prepared last year was fine.
“It was just how we dealt with situations like not scoring a try in the Wales 22 at the end of the first half and giving away three penalties in a row to hand momentum back to Wales. Then, in the second half, not dealing with the red card when we needed to adjust.
“I’m sure there are things next week we’ll have to adapt and adjust to, but I feel this team is much better at that,” he added, before highlighting that the crucial penalty try Scotland scored yesterday was a consequence of the team finding a way to make the most of scrappy scrum ball
“That was something that hadn’t really gone the way we wanted it to go but we adapted to where the space,” he reasoned. “Confidence and belief is important, it gives you the ability to adapt and show character, but we have to deliver the detail as well. We can be better than this week, and we believe Wales will be better than they showed this week.”
The big positive as far as Townsend is concerned is that Scotland know there is scope for improvement despite the result. His side have gone from being masters playing exciting rugby and coming up short, to experts at finding a way to win ugly, with a new-found passion for defence the key to that.
“Being tough to beat is really important, it usually defines championship-winning teams … a strong defence in any sport,” he said. “We have set really good standards over the past couple of seasons and the players now enjoy defending.
“But defence is all about getting the ball back,” he added. “Getting it back in terms of turnovers or penalties or getting it back in terms of kicks. So, we know our defence is really entwined with our attack, and we’ve got some really dangerous attackers in our team who we want to give the ball to.
“We want to give them a framework to play, and one in which they are encouraged to play. Getting both of those sides of the game right is so important. But defence certainly helps you win those tight games.”
The one significant set-back from yesterday’s match relates to the injury suffered by Jamie Ritchie midway through the second half. Having come into the championship in the unusual position of having all his front-line players available, Townsend is expecting to be without blindside flanker next week and likely for longer.
“It’s not looking great for Jamie just now – when you’re on crutches and struggling to walk, it’s not great – it seems to be the hamstring and groin area,” he revealed. “From what I could tell, the motion he made attempting to compete for the ball, he sort of did the splits.
“So, yeah, he’s in a bit of pain. I wouldn’t expect him to be available next week. But from what I hear, everyone else seems to be okay.”