GREGOR TOWNSEND is awaiting medical bulletins for three key players this [Sunday] evening as attention turns away from Ireland and towards next Saturday’s Six Nations round five clash against Italy.
Stand-off Finn Russell was clearly concerned about his heavily strapped left knee when he was replaced in the final minute of the 22-7 loss to Ireland, Stuart Hogg came off the park after 64 minutes of his 100th cap struggling with an ankle injury, and second-row Richie Gray only managed seven minutes before popping a rib and being replaced by Scott Cummings.
“They will be getting scans or x-rays tonight to see if it will rule them out next week,” said Townsend.
Despite the uncertainty over that trio, Townsend backed his Scotland team to bounce back next weekend after letting a golden opportunity to beat Ireland for the first time since 2017 slip through their fingers .
The Scots produced arguably their best 40-minutes of this Six Nations championship so far during the first half against Ireland but trailed by a single point at the break. Then, despite Ireland having lost three key forwards in the first half, soon followed replacement hooker Ronan Kelleher early in the second half – leaving them with a makeshift scrum and line-out – the world’s number one team were able to raise their intensity levels to stretch away for a comfortable 22-7 win.
“The players should be even more determined to not go through another experience like today of losing,” said Townend, when asked if he was worried about his team being demoralised. “The first half was better than we have started other first halves, against real top opposition, but there will be a frustration and a real determination to make sure that carries on for 80 minutes against Italy.
“I am very disappointed with that second half [today],” the coach added. “The first half was a very good Test match that went end to end. I felt we were on it and the players were a bit deflated they were not leading at half time but that happens
“It is just disappointing that the second half was not as competitive and there wasn’t the same energy level from us, which allowed Ireland to get ahead.
“We chased the game. Maybe we had to, but maybe it was too early to chase the game. We were certainly not happy with that last 15-minute performance.”
Pressed on why Scotland – who take pride in their fitness – couldn’t match Ireland after the break, Townsend struggled to find an answer.
“I felt the whole of the second half we were not at the level we had been at the first half and whether we expected things to come to us, I can’t say,” he mused. “It was difficult for us once they went more than a score up.
“It was disappointing by us in defence, it was disappointing in attack. We were passive at time, and we lost the contact in the second half.
“We had been so good in the contact in the first half, then two or three occasions [in the second half] we moved the ball wide but didn’t get there quick enough, so it is something we have to improve because if you are getting turned over you are giving a very good team more opportunities.
“You have to credit Ireland. Mack Hansen was excellent. He got two of the jackals. We will look at ourselves, our own technique, and whether we can be in position quickly enough.”
“I suppose the internal focus [this week] is putting what we’ve been working towards into an 80-minute performance,” he added.
“That’s what we were aiming to put out there against Ireland, and a lot of that first half was at a high level, probably some of the best rugby we’ve played, because of the quality of the opposition – but 40-50 minutes isn’t good enough and it won’t be good enough against Italy either. They are a very dangerous team with nothing to lose.
“It’s a similar message to the one we gave the players after the New Zealand game last November. That was on a Sunday, we played longer at a higher level against them and lost the game, and we said we had to go out and play our best rugby of that campaign the following week against Argentina.
“We did that and that will be the goal again this week against Italy.”
Meanwhile, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell gave an insight into his team’s growth mind-set after they brushed off a series of injury set-backs to blow Scotland away in the second half of yesterday’s match at Murrayfield.
“It was immense, the character,” he said. “Obviously it wasn’t champagne rugby all round but as far as character and fight and want for each other, that’s the best game I’ve ever been involved in.
“If you’d have seen us at half-time you’d have laughed. The whole team was laughing because it was organised chaos. We didn’t know what was happening until the last second, whether Ronan [Kelleher, Ireland’s replacement hooker who had a shoulder injury and had to be replaced nine minutes after the restart] was coming back on or not and we made half a plan with Cian [Healy, Ireland’s replacement loose-head prop who ended up taking over in the middle of the front-row].”
Farrell also provided a re-assuring update on centre Garry Ringrose, who received prolonged treatment on the field and was then stretched off.
“I was texting his mother and father, there, because they’re very concerned,” he said. “There were safety checks and precautions, there, around necks but he was up and talking so, hopefully, he’s going to be fine.”
Next up for Ireland is England at home for the Grand Slam. “It is what dreams are made of,” said Farrell. “To play England at home on the last weekend, on St Paddy’s weekend, for a Grand Slam, it doesn’t get any better than that. We’ll have a few down days to get our legs back and then we’ll have a hit-out or two and get our plan together and make sure we’re in the right space for training.”