AN improvement, but another defeat. Those two basic facts about Scotland’s 11-18 loss to Wales were summed up by Gregor Townsend when he explained the emotions that were to the fore after the game: pride and frustration.
Pride, because his squad had fought back so well in the second half after being 6-15 down at half-time. Frustration, because despite utterly dominating territorially, they scored only once in the second half.
But despite that relative failing – not to mention the fact that Scotland have now lost three Six Nations games in a row after their opening-day win over Italy – the head coach insisted his team could go down to Twickenham next week and win for the first time since 1983. “What we showed today against the No 3 team in the world, if we build on that performance we can be a match for any team in the world,” Townsend said. “We know how England are at home, what a strong team they are, but records are there to be broken. And that will be the case if we play like we did today and improve those areas close to the try line.
“I’m very proud of the players,” the head coach continued. “I felt that we started the game really well. We had some adjustments with players getting injured and then we didn’t defend well in the second quarter.
“But in the first quarter and the second half we played well – I believe we were the better team, the team that dominated possession and got in behind the opposition defence. So I’m really proud of the players putting on that performance, in front of the supporters who were really energised by the way we were playing against one of the best teams in the world.
“So pride is my strongest emotion – and obviously frustration that we didn’t get the win. We scored one try and on a couple of occasions we had errors probably caused by the defensive pressure.
“But we had chances. Five penalties in the 22, to not get anything from that seems like their indiscipline was rewarded and our pressure wasn’t rewarded. Was I surprised there was no yellow card? Yes.
“If teams are giving away penalties close to their own try line through cynical play, whether it is in the lineout drive or by not rolling away in the tackle area, then you expect that pressure close to the try line to lead to yellow cards.”
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Back three injuries
Townsend will have a better idea on Monday about which players will be available for the trip to London, with particular concern being about the back three. Sean Maitland and Chris Harris were ruled out of this match but as things stand have a chance of competing in the Calcutta Cup, while of those players who were injured against Wales, Darcy Graham and Byron McGuigan both look like having a fair chance of recovering from what Townsend called “whacks”.
Blair Kinghorn limped off with an ankle injury and could be a close call, but Tommy Seymour looks less likely to make it after damaging ribs. “There was a lot of knocks today, it’s international rugby. We don’t know how long they will be out.”
Stuart Hogg, like Maitland and Harris, has yet to be ruled out, although it appears likely that Townsend will err on the side of caution if there is any doubt about the full-back. “He’s not back to full training, so he would have to make some progress over the weekend to come into consideration,” the coach said.
Captain Stuart McInally also emphasised the frustration of getting so little out of so dominant a second half, as well as referring to the failings of the first 40 minutes, in which Wales scored two tries and ended up 15-9 in front. “We’re massively disappointed with that, but we weren’t accurate enough to win the game,” the skipper said. “We cost ourselves defensively in the first half and gave them a couple of cheap tries.
“We played better in the second half, but we just couldn’t break them down. It was a big step up from last week, but we’re still massively disappointed with that.
“We threw everything we could at them and it was so frustrating not to get over the line. They’re an excellent side and we couldn’t break them down.
“We have high expectations of ourselves. We hate not performing and losing at home. It’s extremely disappointing, but we use all these experiences to get better. We have one game left and we’re going to do all we can at Twickenham to win.”
Wales on a wave
Wales coach Warren Gatland, whose team are now just a win against Ireland away from a Grand Slam, said that if his team did complete the dream they might well regard themselves as having been fortunate here. “We were pretty comfortable during the first half but in fairness to Scotland they came out and put us under a lot of pressure in the second,” he said.
“We’ve lost the second half 5-3 but we’ve shown some real character. There were a couple of moments towards the end when Scotland were attacking but we drove them back and kept them out.
“Any team that’s won a Grand Slam – and I think back even to last year with Ireland and that Johnny Sexton drop goal – you look back at certain games and know you’ve had a little bit of luck.
“Maybe from a coaching perspective we needed to be a bit tougher at half-time. We talked at the break about being pretty comfortable and going out to deliver a second-half [performance]. As a result, maybe we were thinking about next week and that Irish game.
“Scotland had a few injuries but showed real character. We had to make a lot of tackles in that second half and it was tough. It was definitely a game of two halves.”