Scotland v New Zealand reaction: Gregor Townsend laments missed opportunity

Head coach left frustrated after his side surrender nine point lead during the final 20 minutes

Darcy Graham's disallowed try against New Zealand was one of a number of key moments which went against Scotland. Image: © Craig Watson -
Darcy Graham's disallowed try against New Zealand was one of a number of key moments which went against Scotland. Image: © Craig Watson -

GREGOR TOWNSEND looked like he had found a penny but lost a pound after this [Sunday] afternoon’s loss to New Zealand at Murrayfield. He was proud of the way his players performed but frustrated that the team failed to kill their opponents off when they had the chance.

“I feel mainly disappointment,” he said. “It is galling we don’t get to play New Zealand every couple of years like we used to. It has been five years. That will be the biggest lead we have had over New Zealand in our history and we didn’t win.

“A couple of times we got over the try line.  The one in the first half was really good play by them. Ardie Savea’s jackal, he timed that well, but we should have shifted the ball a bit wider. The one in the second half was bad luck. The way the offload went to Ali Price the defence got the advantage.

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“There was also Darcy Graham’s one which was millimetres away from a try as well [the winger scored with a spectacular dive but his foot brushed the touchline]. Those three occasions you increase your lead. We scored 23 points to nil during a 50 minute period. With those margins you have to kick on and win. You have to see out the win and we did not do that.

“What is disappointing is that you don’t get to play New Zealand often and we have never beaten them in our history so when you play like that and get a lead you feel you should win, and we didn’t.”

It was a remarkable see-saw match, with Scotland falling 14-points behind inside the first 10 minutes, then dominating up to the hour mark, before eventually being reeled back in and ultimately killed off during the final quarter.

Townsend has a reputation for talking up his team’s performance in defeat, but on this occasion his sense of pride was entirely legitimate, even if it was heavily tainted with a sense of regret.

“[I was pleased with] the calmness the players showed and how they stuck with what they had worked on this week, playing with energy, showing their skill individually,” he said. “Set-piece wise was outstanding, although there was a crucial scrum call late in the game.

“We were nine point up and controlled a fair bit of our own destiny in those last fifteen minutes. New Zealand were always going to come back into it, they are a very good team, and we allowed them to get better field positions and penalties.

“Our management of when to play and when to kick was excellent. Our chase was outstanding. But we let them back in with a couple of errors. We were not able to get the jackals they did against us and the yellow card [for a deliberate knock-on by Jack Dempsey when it was 23-17 with 16 minutes to play] put us under pressure. Yellow cards lift the opposition and that is when they did damage.

“A lot of the penalties were round the ruck area. You can analyse and say: was it poor play by us, good play by them or bodies in the way?” Townsend added, without offering a conclusion.

All Blacks coach Ian Foster was generous in his praise of his hosts, and quietly satisfied by the patient and efficient way in which his players set about rescuing the game from a tricky position. “We’re delighted to come to Murrayfield on this tour for a game that we’ve always found is extremely difficult – particularly this year against a Scottish team that we think has grown in strength and is on the rise,” he said. “And they’ve shown they’ve been able to win some big Tests the last two years.

“It was one we were a little bit nervous about, so I was delighted to come away with a good win. I’m pleased for many reasons.

“One is the composure shown in the last 20. When you’re away from home against a team that has got their tails up it’s hard to turn that around. And I thought the work done by Sammy [captain Sam Whitelock] and the leaders on the park – and the bench in particular – gave us a lot of composure and enabled us to finish that Test very strong. So it’s a win we’re very proud of.”

Scotland v New Zealand: heartbreak again for Finn Russell inspired hosts

About David Barnes 3963 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Three names J Gray, W Nell and Ashman these 3 players were brought on at key moments and all made instant mistakes Grey stepped back from the ball on the ine and was too late to move across Nel fannied about in the scrum and gave away penalty Ashman made and instant k in the loose give away a penalty timing of bring on management errors with players not having the instant game face

  2. There have been many comments on the various articles covering yesterday’s game that produced similar words: pressure, consistency, white line fever and observations that when it went wide to Graham and VdM they had a better return for their efforts.
    I hope that Townsend and the coaching staff took that on board along with my observation, several times you could see a collective circle around Russell in animated discussion giving an indication that he has ‘leadership’ capabilities that his fellow players recognise, he has experience and talent.
    Townsend has to think long and hard about how he can improve the squad for the 6N and more to the point the World Cup. With Ireland and SA in our group we need to turn up with a united group of players, in form, playing in positions that they are known to be accomplished in, that along with consistent selection of the players around them offering a determined team spirit the like of which we saw yesterday. Many have pointed out players selected and discarded from the squad only to turn out week in week out putting performances in at Saracens or Quins or other clubs in the English Premiership, it’s almost as if after all this time he still hasn’t got in his own mind what sort of team he selects.
    That brings me to another recurring comment, ‘Townsend has to get his Jotters is the cry. That is a difficult one, are we in midstream, well not quite, but then again who is available, FF some time back made a good comment when he said ‘anyone who is any good is locked in approaching the World Cup’ good point, but I am certain there are people out there with more knowledge than I have that might be able to offer up a name if the worst comes to the worst.
    However the question then is do we take the metaphorical leap in the dark and change the Head Coach or do we continue with the one we have in the hope that some sort of Damascene conversion takes place: ever hopeful for the benefit of Scottish Rugby I hope to hear that at the next training session GT turns up and says ‘You can call me Paul’!

  3. Its really simple. Townsend doesn’t have a first 15. This constant flux of try outs and experiments is not working. Consistency is the baseline for high performance. We have no consistency.

    Moments of brilliance & emotion? Yes.

    But no consistency.

    Add to that the drama around the side every time they come together and its a recipe for disaster.

  4. For those calling for Finn to be in the squad from the start, I think he probably was along.
    Gregor is a thinking man and good at psychology.
    So Finn would have never have played against Australia as outside the test window and club wouldn’t release him. Normally against tier 2 teams we would give the second choice a chance, so Finn would have been benched or rested.

    Now the thinking man would think, what if we had poor results in these two games, imagine what would inspire the players and country, bring back Finn make it look like he is here to save the side. But if he has been “in the squad” from the start then the impact would be less.

    Just a thought, maybe Gregor has no intention to pick him and injuries forced it and I’m wrong.

    • Yes and Gregor probably used the power of his mind to propel the Fijian player into Adam at high speed thereby generating whiplash which will keep him out of the game for a few weeks. After he’s finished with Scotland Gregor can turn to bending spoons and maybe suspending himself off a hotel in Las Vegas in front of thousands of his adoring fans.

      • As I said maybe my theory was not correct. But the sports psychology side of things is something that goes deeper than most know about. Down to the design and layout of the away changing rooms.

        I agree that Finn has a leadership role he can offer and can raise the team to a whole new level.

    • Mr Rugby. I suspect Gregor was doing his best to keep Finn out of the squad as he can’t handle the challenges it bring with their class in personality. If Adam didn’t get injured Finn would most likely still be in France. But he had very little option when Adam dropped out and pressure was mounting on Gregor to either be honest about why Finn was dropped and he got around this by bring him back in.

      Finn may well not play for the Argentina match due the imminent arrival of Russell jnr but it was terrific to have him playing yesterday.

    • Maybe not far off the mark. If you’ve a player playing poorly (6 nations), flaunting squad rules and acts like he’s too important to drop – if you’re the coach, you’re going to drop him. Resting during the summer, leaves you with the Autumn games as the most likely choice.
      When he spoke of form when the squad was announce, GT said Hastings was very good – as soon as he was available, he was in the team. When he was injured during the Summer, Kinghorn was and remains next in line.
      With a tough game coming up and Hastings injured, it was an obvious call to bring Russell back.
      His performance was solid rather than inspirational, kind of disappeared in the last 20 mins – as the ABs ramped up the pressure, he’ll have nightmares over the clumsy kick through the in-goal area – he’d normally pull that off 8 times out of 10. Kicking, apart from off the tee, was a bit hit or miss, loved the comedy moment when Russell kicked straight to Beauden Barrett who set off cross field only to tackle himself and fall over, then cap it off with a pop pass to his brother who dropped it and knocked on – cue commentary team purring over how Russell’s kicking is ensuring Scotland are playing in the right areas.
      FR is still our best 10 option, but if we want to develop players we have to play them, so I wonder if Hastings recovers, who we will start next Saturday. After all everyone else seems to be mixing an matching NZ have started 6 centres in three games., Play a 10 at 15, France have 8s playing as 11s, Argentina a 15/11 at 10. Wales a 10 at 15, England 10 at 12, Australia 4 10s in the Rugby Championship. Injuries do play a part in some of these but the suggestion is that Scotland are no different in experimenting and trying new combinations.

  5. The biggest takeaway for Townsend should be that you pick your best available side and stick by them, particularly in key positions such as – oh, let me see – stand-off for example. Russell is the man – always has been – and now needs to play at 10 throughout the Six Nations and build-up to the World Cup.

    • put aside the Russell saga for a moment

      There is a need to develop other players. You don’t do that by picking the “best” players every game. Even if their form is steady

      • Good point, but develop players in their natural positions, why continue to try and make a Fly-half out of a utility Wing or Full-back.

    • George

      Kinghorn is a difficult one

      Since U20s I’ve been clear in my mind he would never make a 10 in pro rugby. He poor in age group even though he had played there at school – usual best player plays 10. He did well at FB when switched there, but in all his time at Edinburgh what I’ve seen is a prodigious talent on search of a position.
      Hence his switch IMHO. I had grave doubts but TBF it has gone far better than I could have imagined; but his development should have stayed with Edinburgh until he was really ready to play there with Scotland. I’ll ignore his goal kicking (altho it clearly is a factor in picking a team) but he not shown how to manage a game even against average to worse URC teams (often doesn’t have to), which the so called maverick did superbly yesterday.

      But we are where we are. Transition done (sort of). We have Russell, Hastings injured then the very raw Thomson who may or may not manage the step up, so we are kinda stuck with Kinghorn for now – unless Toonie can convince Finn Smith to become the sorcerer’s apprentice. Smith will undoubtedly be able to step up

  6. One point – if you want to beat the All Blacks you’ve gotta play em.

    We’ve managed 4 fixtures against them since 2012.
    Ireland have had 11.

    Yes – realise a covid disrupted tour is in there.

  7. We don’t all share Gregor’s short memory – Russell should have been in the squad all along – Finn has just proved his worth not just personally but collectively across the team
    The downside – Townsend will return to ‘tinkering’ against Argentina and any progress will be lost –

  8. We don’t all share Townsend’s short memory – Russell should have been in the squad all along – Finn has just proved his worth not just personally but collectively across the team
    The downside – Townsend will return to ‘tinkering’ against Argentina and any progress will be lost –

  9. At the game felt we had 5 really good opportunities we didn’t convert, 3 pts only from that. Won’t win doing that. IMcG says the key to a team is the spine of 2,8,9,10,15 only 2 nailed are 9&15, and price is not playing at level of 12 months ago. I think in the current game ghe kfy link is 10,12,13. I think this trio last played about 18 months ago. FR only turned up a couple of days ago. Townsend has the best quality squad since the 1990s. How has he improved it?

  10. No wonder he’s upset. I think this was the worst possible result for Townsend.

    A big loss can always be blamed on individuals not sticking to the plan or just being outclassed, but a tight one like this, where the team dominated for large stretches shows how ridiculous his pre tournament approach to the stand off position was.

    Let us not forget that only a week ago he was still maintaining that Blair was the form 10 in Scotland. And that Finn was simply “one of the tens”, alongside we assume a 20 year old who has yet to even commit to playing for Scotland. For that nonsense alone he should be sacked.

    He may lament missing this opportunity, but what about the opportunity to have played this team last week? Might that not have been a useful bit of preparation?

    I wonder by his demeanor if he hasn’t already seen the writing on the wall. But judging by his previous lack of self-awareness in forcing his way into the job, I somehow doubt it.

    • Let’s see. Scotland one their home patch can beat anyone (apart from NZ) apparently, during Townsend’s tenure. Beating records of away losses against England, Wales and France.

      Other teams are allowed to tinker their line-ups but apparently Scotland has to field their strongest 15 each and every game?

      I don’t get this whole bee-line for Townsend. If identifying any issues, certainly a visceral fan base and a lack of winning mentality would be top of my list. I read comments and can see the result was a forgone conclusion. Belief and backing amounts to something.


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