GREGOR TOWNSEND was tight-lipped about whether Finn Russell could receive a late call-up to Scotland’s Autumn Nations Series squad ahead of next Sunday’s clash against the All Blacks if Adam Hastings is ruled out of that game due to the injuries he suffered against Fiji this afternoon.
“Adam will go through a second process with his head, and he has a knee issue that is getting looked at as well,” explained Townsend after watching his team beat Fiji 28-12 in a scrappy match at Murrayfield. The coach was then asked if he has been in touch with Russell recently.
“Since the squad has been together, no,” Townsend replied to that enquiry. “He will be in the mix, of course. How are relations? Fine, yeah. People who are not in the squad, I don’t phone up regularly unless there’s something to talk about.
“I’d imagine he will be available. He was disappointed not to be selected in the squad. If we decide to bring in another ten, he’s one of the ones we’ll be looking at.
“There are a lot of players out of the camp and within the camp. Our focus has been on the players in the camp in this two-week period.”
Hastings had a mixed 42 minutes before suffering his double-injury. He scored a crucial try just before half-time when he had the wherewithal to hold onto the ball and ride Kalaveti Ravouvou’s uncharacteristically weak tackle to dot down under the posts, but there was some wayward kicking and he struggled to pick holes in Fiji’s aggressive defence.
“I thought Adam did well in a lot of areas,” insisted Townsend. “We didn’t get as much ball in the first half, but when we started changing direction to try to pick off defenders, he looked confident and took his try well. Then we had a period where we didn’t have much ball.
“Blair [Kinghorn], when he came on, it was a a stop-start game. I thought he put pace on things, but we weren’t as accurate in attack.”
Scotland’s other injury concern is hooker George Turner. “George has a shoulder issue that he’s on his way to get scanned,” explained Townsend, speaking half an hour after the full-time whistle.
While the All Blacks are not currently the force we have become used to, there is no doubt that a major step-up in performance level will be required if Scotland are to be competitive against a side they have never beaten.
“We can’t give away as many penalties, that’s for sure,” said Townsend, having watched his team cough up seven penalties in the first half, including four for offside, and 12 overall against Fiji.
“We’ve got to convert when we have opportunities, which we didn’t do enough today. We did have opportunities in the first half, and a lot in the second half.
“In the second half, a lot of them led to penalties, but we won’t get as many opportunities to score tries next week so we’ve got to make sure we take them.”
Pressed on whether he is concerned that Scotland are earning a reputation for giving away lots of penalties, Townsend reasoned that each game should be assessed on an individual basis.
“We won the penalty count today and we won it last week,” he said. “You take games into context. 14 was a lot last week, but the opposition conceded 15. Today the opposition gave away 17. Sometimes games become high penalty counts. We have to set our own standards.
“Single figures is always an area you want to get to and we were within that with about two minutes to go, so we sorted out the problems at half time.
“If we do that [concede so many] next week, there is going to be a lot of defending in our own 22, yellow cards and defending with 14 men. But we learned the lesson in the first half and it was much better in the second.”
“All the penalties in the first half bar one were against the defence, for both teams,” he added. “When you know the referee and assistant referees are being really strict on the defence, you’ve got to be even further away from the edge that players play on. A lot of that was on the offside line.
“Discipline is a broad area. At times it can be in the set-piece but our set-piece was very strong today. It was what we were doing in defence that needs to improve.
“From a coach’s point of view, you are always looking at performance. What needs to improve to win the game, what needs to be improved through the week.
“We improved to win the game but there are certainly things we will have to improve for next week.
“The players know they can play better but they are delighted that they won for Scotland. We are all aware we will have to play better next week.”