Scotland v Tonga reaction: Townsend encouraged but step-up required for Australia challenge

Head coach identified defence and discipline as two key areas to improve on

George Turner scored the seventh of Scotland's 10 tries. Image: © Craig Watson -
George Turner scored the seventh of Scotland's 10 tries. Image: © Craig Watson -

GREGOR TOWNSEND said he was generally satisfied with his makeshift team’s performance when putting Tonga to the sword at Murrayfield yesterday [Saturday] – but was quick to highlight that a significant step-up in class is on the cards when Australia provide the opposition at Murrayfield next Sunday. 

“Very pleased that players making their debut for their country did so in a winning performance and contributed to that performance,” he reflected. “I felt we energised the crowd by the way we played.

“We aimed to play at speed and we did that in the first half, but I thought Tonga also played really well during that period. We didn’t know what to expect from them, but I felt when they had the ball, they caused us problems, so we’ll have a few things to work on this week.

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“And then there was a sticky period in the second half which we got through okay, despite losing a man to the sin-bin, making a few changes, and having a forward in the backs for the last 20 minutes. But we finished strongly which was pleasing.

“Defensively we’ll have to be at our very best [next week],” he added. “Australia have shown they are a good attacking side, and they are full of confidence. They’ve won five Test matches in a row and they’ve beaten the world champions [South Africa] twice, the No1 team in the world, during the recent Rugby Championship.

“We set very high standards in our defence and at times today it wasn’t at those standards.

Townsend was also frustrated by Scotland’s poor discipline, particularly the several penalties which were conceded in the tackle area.

“We’ll have to analyse each involvement, but we knew before the game that referee Nic Berry was going to be very strict around tackles and rolling away,” said the coach. “Sometimes that’s hard to do when you put in the tackle and the ruck is formed on top of you, but we have to be better.

“Attacks are getting rewarded more by referees. Steve Tandy [Scotland’s defence coach] doesn’t enjoy that but it’s probably good. Each action has to be viewed in isolation, and whether that’s right or wrong we have to learn from them.

“But it certainly wasn’t good enough today. The number of penalties we gave away in that area and for offside, we have to be better next week.”


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The hosts will be boosted by the return of 11 of their most experienced and influential players to face Australia, with the likes of captain Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Duhan van der Merwe, Chris Harris and Rory Sutherland having been blocked from playing in this match by their English and French clubs because it was scheduled outside World Rugby’s international window.However, Townsend insisted that their return en masse is not a foregone conclusion.

Back-three selection is gong to be particularly interesting, with recent Lions Hogg and van der Merwe having plenty of credit in the bank, but four-try Kyle Steyn, two-try Rufus McLean and the unrelentingly lively Darcy Graham all impressing against Tonga, which means there are five very strong contenders trying to fit into three starting slots plus one berth on the bench.

And that’s without factoring in Blair Kinghorn, who won his first 25 caps as either a winger of a full-back, but who had a solid performance at 10 yesterday.

“I think there are a few players who put their hands up for selection,” agreed Townsend. “Maybe people will think that scoring tries is a key element in selection but we’ll look at a number of other things.

“I thought that both wingers were very, very good today. Obviously, Rufus got two early tries and Kyle got four in the end. Both contributed really well on kick-chase, with Kyle making some that might not have been brilliant kicks into ones that had great outcomes. Rufus was the same.

“And we had a winger [Graham] who started our last Test match in Paris at full-back, so it’s great to see three wingers pushing for places. We’ll have Duhan back available for us next week, and I believe he got two tries for Worcester today, so there’s real strength in depth in that position, and in other positions throughout the team.

“Hopefully we’ll have no injuries and can select from a full squad,” he continued. “We also have to see how quickly we can integrate the players who are going to come back into the team during the week.

“We’ve got an extra day to prepare which should help us, but we know it’s going to be a massive challenge on Sunday.”

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About David Barnes 3818 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he 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. Hainings ability to break the gain line is invaluable and IMO this fact alone gets him a starting place. Hastings to cover 15 and 10, Graham to cover wing. Price starts, France game and Lions confirms this, but Vellacott clearly has earned a chance and has been much better than any other SH candidate

  2. Finn and Hastings cover 10, 10-12 and 15, so I would bench Hastings over kinghorn, not least so you have another reliable goal kicker. With a 9 (prob Horne) on the bench, there’s space for a centre/wing option to bolster the attack – Stern perhaps.

    Starting backs likely price, Finn, Johnston, Harris, VDM, Hogg and my surprise call McLean.

    • you sort of hint to an interesting point there. If Townsend goes for a 6/2 bench again, then if everyone is fit it has to be Price/Russell starting and a scrum half plus either Hastings or Kinghorn. In my mind there is no question that Hastings is a better full back than Kinghorn is a stand off. By a country mile. As well as a far better goal kicker.
      On the other hand, if we think Aus will score loads, Kinghorn has the best restart around anywhere. Genuinely has few peers in that department, but I’d hope not one he would get to show off

  3. Scrum-half debate is interesting. Price will obviously start and I would have had Vellacott on the bench but since he is not in the squad (Why ?) I would opt for the more experienced Horne even if he has not been at his best. Dobbie will get the nod which might be a mistake.against the Aussies. I expect Hastings to be the back up at FH and Kinghorn to cover the back 3. I would go for Steyn on the RW as he has more physicality than Graham or McLean and is a better kick-chaser. But I ham sorry that Maitland is not in the squad. No 8 is a problem where I prefer Haining to Fagerson but Bradbury would be my selection.

  4. I am a fan of Price….I think he brings a lot more in the nuts and bolts of being a 9 and he is overall quite consistent.

    In terms of the Aussie match we will have to be way better based upon what I’ve seen from them in the Sanzar Rugby Championship. They have made steps in quality over the last few months alright.

    I think that McLean and Steyn have earned a squad consideration and maybe the bench. Kinghorn will not get a start and MIGHT get a bench start. But its all down to the split and how Scotland intend to finish out the match.

  5. Price REALLY isn’t rated by a lot of folk on here (& other forums) & I admit to not being his biggest fan pre lions but I clearly never saw the talents which the selectors did & which he displayed on tour ending up as the clear 1st choice Lions scrum half. Now he’s a nailed on starter for me. Any quibbling is about who’s the understudy & IMO that’s between Dobbie & Velacott

    • rewatch his game management last 6N especially the games in Twickers and Stade de France. Its not all about flashy line breaks. This is where Price is head and shoulders above the rest , and still

    • I really rate Price. Scotland fans seem to have some kind of SH madness where we try to drive out our best players for not matching some ideal, when Laidlaw was in harness Price was the great white hope, as soon as he replaced him George Horne took over that mantle.

      I think Price is clearly the best SH Scotland has at this time and on the Lions he proved he deserved his test place. But…he just isn’t as good as Dupont, at all.

      Dupont is the tactical lynchpin of his team, he breaks, he kicks, he creates, he defends all to very high standard. He does the flashy stuff but all his basics are in point. He’s already been the driving force behind a team that won the double in Europe and the worlds most competitive elite league. He isn’t the finished article but he could become an all-time great if he keeps delivering his potential.

      There’s no shame on Price not measuring up to that!

  6. yes, lets drop the best scrum half in the northern hemisphere.

    Playing scrum half is about a wee bit more than looking flash. That an awful form this season is why Horne was left out this week, and why Vellacot didn’t make the squad. Dobie is the coming 9

      • I might give you that! Certainly over the past 3 seasons. Price however is clearly the best who was available to the B&I Lions.

    • I don’t understand why people don’t rate Horne. I’m not talking line-breaks (but lets not discount them), I’m talking his try-scoring and assists. He sees attacking opportunities where other s/halfs can only think to distribute. His box kicking was poor but has improved recently and anyway that’s a tactic only SA seems to be able to pull off consistently. Too often the receiving team make gains off it. Horne, like Dobie, is predatory and Scotland needs attack-minded players. I wouldn’t count selection for the British Lions under Gatland as a positive.

      • Horne’s box kicking has not improved. And his passing has regressed

        I’d count any scrum half who is neither over 6ft and 14st or Welsh being selected by Gatland as quite a coup. And I’d count any Scot being selected by Gatland as being special

  7. I think Townsend has a problem with Kinghorn if Hogg and Russell are back. Thompson is a better all-round 10 so should be on the bench With McLean, Steyn and Dobie. Van Der Merwe, Graham and George Horne to start. Both Horne and Dobie are faster, sharper than Price.


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