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.
“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.”