Six Nations: frustrated Gregor Townsend turns focus towards summer tour

"Tours give opportunities to look at people who haven’t played before for Scotland or who haven’t played that much at pro level."

Gregor Townsend with Scotland's lead performance analyst Gavin Vaughan after Saturday's loss to Ireland in Dublin. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Gregor Townsend with Scotland's lead performance analyst Gavin Vaughan after Saturday's loss to Ireland in Dublin. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

GREGOR TOWNSEND admitted that frustration was his overriding emotion as he looked back at a Six Nations campaign which started with a bang for Scotland in Cardiff, at least until the 47th minute, before inconsistency often driven by indiscipline at key moments took hold, leaving his team having to settle for fourth in the table (fortunate to finish ahead of Italy who only lost two games compared to Scotland’s three).

“The two games that were the biggest missed opportunities were France – and we still believe that was a try we scored at the end of the game – and Italy, which was an underperformance in the third quarter,” Townsend reflected on Saturday evening, after Scotland had answered some of their doubters with their best performance of the campaign in a 17-13 loss to Ireland in Dublin.

“Today we were still playing for something, unlikely to play for the title although it was mathematically possible, but we put everything in to win that game today. We were still chasing a win at the end. A lot of teams have come here and not got close to Ireland so I’m proud of the way we finished the championship, but when you have three close defeats, you’ll feel it’s one that got away.


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“Frustration would be the overriding feeling,” he added, when asked to reflect on the campaign more generally. “But we went into this Six Nations on the back of a painful defeat against Ireland and a lot of what we’ve worked on since that game was about making sure we’d improved by the last game of the championship, specifically things around our game-plan, around our mindset and around an edge we can bring, the physicality … and I felt we brought that through a lot of the tournament, in particular today.”

Townsend was keen to stress that he did not feel the trials and tribulations Scotland have faced over the last two months are unique to his team.

“Mental errors, whether it’s a lack of focus or someone not recovering well after a mistake … that’s sport,” he argued. “It happens to the best teams. I’m sure Ireland will be disappointed with how they did things against England last week. England would’ve been disappointed with how they played against us.

“We’ve been working really hard on it, and it’s still a work on, like all aspects of our game will be. When you look back, you can say we lost our focus in Italy, or our intensity and togetherness in that third quarter, but you look at the England game after going behind and how together they were and how mentally strong they were then.

“Look at today and how mentally strong we were. Errors will happen, skill or focus errors, it’s about how you recover from them that’s key. Against Italy we didn’t recover quickly enough, today we did.

“We’ve worked really hard on it and we’re getting some rewards. We made it a priority of our training sessions.  There will be bumps in the road but today was strong evidence we’re going in the right direction.

“We’ve played five games, and we’ve either won it or we’ve come within a score. I think that shows the competitiveness of the team, and also the expectations we have of ourselves [because] we were frustrated we weren’t playing for the title today.”

 

 

Townsend will now have to nurse his frustration until at least the summer, when his team is back in action on a four match tour which will take in meetings against Canada, USA, Chile and Uruguay.

In reality – despite all of those games being classed as Test matches – this is set to be more of a development expedition against tier two opposition, meaning that a significant number of senior players will be rested at the end of a long World Cup year while a selection of novices will get a chance to impress, perhaps even before they’ve cut their teeth at pro team level.

“We’ve known for a while that we were going to be given USA and Canada as our two games [this summer], so we’ve been working hard to expand that,” Townsend explained. “We had a desire from Uruguay and Chile, and World Rugby, to see if we could facilitate that. It works really well for us in that we’re kind of in the same part of the world.

“The Friday game in USA will help get us down to Chile and give us an extra day’s preparation. I know it’s going to be tough for David Edge [team manager and head of rugby operations].

“I think we’ll take a bigger squad but when we go to South America, we’ll drop down to nearer 30. There will be some players who have not featured in this Six Nations squad who go on tour. We’ll look at every individual and what’s right for them – that could be age [or] what’s ahead of them next year – [because] we obviously want our players to have a massive 12 months. We’ve got four Tests in the autumn, we’ve got Six Nations, then some of them will hopefully be going to Australia with the Lions [so] that will be factored in when we put that squad together.

“Usually you get to this time of the season and you find out if guys are needing little surgical procedures so that might take them out for a while.

“We’ll look at the players we want to see on tour. It might be that there’s a couple of players coming back from injury that haven’t had a chance to play, which means if they are fit we can not select someone else. I don’t want to get drawn into who these people might be. There will definitely be a group of players who haven’t been in with us before that will be on that summer tour.

“I think we have developed good depth but this gives us an opportunity to do it more,” he added. “During the Six Nations, your goal isn’t to develop depth, it’s to get the best team out over the five games. Tours do give you opportunities to look at people who have been off the bench in this campaign, or who haven’t played at all, or who haven’t played that much at pro level.”

All of which means that, in reality, it won’t be until the Autumn that Townsend and Scotland will have another chance to demonstrate that the bandwagon is still rolling in the right direction.

Townsend confirmed that the November schedule will be four matches long, with the first on 2nd November to played outside the international window meaning Scotland’s English and French based players won’t be available, as was the case against Australia in 2022, Tonga the year before that, and Wales back in 2018.

Scotland’s other Autumn Tests are understood to be South Africa on 9th November, Portugal in 16th November and Australia on 23rd November.

 

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About David Barnes 3891 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.

21 Comments

  1. I agree what is said about lack of leadership. Rumours abound about GT moving to become Director of rugby. What better way for him to at last be able to create a legacy with hands on involvement in establishing an effective feeder system structure developing and producing battle hardened, mentally and physically, players ready to step up to the international team. This would also allow Scotland to hire a new head coach with a successful track record to bring a fresh approach and new ideas to get the best from the players, at least on a competitive basis. Look at what the new Italian coach has produced in such a short time in terms of style of play, tactical nous in how to negate the opposition and the intensity of commitment. Seven years is a fair trial period but staleness of ideas and complacency can kick in.

    We should also look to the future to maximise use of the talents of home grown coaches within the structure, Mark and Ben Cairns, to name but two.

  2. What an arrogant remark from Townsend, is his ego really that big?
    Yes maybe a higher win ration than Vern but he has had much longer to achieve it.
    Scotland’s performances will not change without a considerable management/coaching shake up, starting with Mr Townsend. Are the SRU really happy to take only two wins from the 6 Nations and finish in the bottom half of the table?

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  3. ‘Mental errors, whether it’s a lack of focus or someone not recovering well after a mistake… that’s sport’. No it isn’t, maybe for poorly prepared teams but for not successful ones striving constantly for excellence and refusing to accept mediocrity. Scotland’s campaign was marred by shocking indiscipline which saw an unacceptable penalty count that any team would find hard to overcome. That can be coached out of players and should not be somehow accepted as ‘par for the course’. Neither should failing to protect the ball and squandering possession through basic, basic mistakes. You’d have thought that pill was a hot potato the way our players batted it away in Dublin. And you don’t get enough chances against a great team like the Irish to squander the ones that come your way.

    Cardiff may have started ‘with a bang’ but the players set the tone by going to sleep in the second half. In two of the matches that we lost – France and Italy – we similarly dominated and then switched off completely. The Irish game saw some heroic defence, but other than the opportunity Huw Jones made for himself we offered precious little in attack – nothing to do with her from Little Britain, although it might as well have been. A good coach just won’t accept any of this from his players and certainly wouldn’t manufacture lame excuse for them. But instead we get precisely the spin that all of us knew was coming – that we only lost in our three defeats by a single score. A searing rocket was required that would have ripped through the team, but I don’t ever see Toony doing that and it just isn’t in him.

    The willingness to make excuses for low standards breeds a culture of defeat. Italy are improving at a terrific rate and are the example of a team that actually is making progress. France even without Dupont and Ntamack showed they were formidable on Saturday. Even the English have finally woken up and the Welsh will do so too once they emerge from the basement of their rebuilding phase. The Irish of course are already out of sight. Meantime we are off on yet another tour of the Americas, while the top-tier nations are all busy playing each other.

    I know we’ve all said it so many times before that we’re growing weary of it, but it is no less true for all that. This team is going nowhere under Gregor and the tragedy is that it has the potential to do so under a coach that will demand it gets its act together. There isn’t long left before this ‘golden generation’ disappears without trace and – no matter how unpleasant – we all know what has to be done here. Oliver Cromwell said it best when he dismissed the Long Parliament nearly four centuries ago: ‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!’

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    • Agree. They should pursue and appoint a coach who:

      – has no history with any of the players (i.e. previously coached the pro teams),
      – has experienced a successful culture in the past,
      – will command the full respect of the squad and not stand for lapses in concentration etc.

      The 2024 equivalent of Vern Cotter, whoever that might be! I don’t expect Ronan O’Gara would be in the lest bit interested, but someone along those lines perhaps.

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    • Yep – time for a change at the top – the coach is good but he’s become too familiar and the team are not firing under him.

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    • His ego will not let him do what any decent person would do, How many grandslams, lions tours etc has Gatland been involved in.

      He inherited a complete basket case and has already put things in motion and exposed a raft of young Welshman note Welshmen and not a team of imports that has bled the finances of the SRU white and he offered his resignation.

      Townsend blames the players and has his coaches fired but has never once in 7 years said that he has got it wrong. He has failed and as he was as a player when the pressure came on his game fell apart just like his teams. Flashes of genuine talent but never the finished and complete article.

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  4. Townsend has had more than ample opportunity and more than most international coaches to make his mark at international level. Whether you deem his tenure a failure or not is a matter of personal opinion. I am not swayed by the stats that say he is the most successful coach ever. That is heavily influenced by the number of games we have played against 2nd tier opposition (upcoming tour a case in point). If you are at the big boys table then it is measured by your performance in major championships and against the top 6 teams in the world. His record in this arena , with the exception of England, is less than impressive. If he had an ounce of integrity he would accept he’s had a fair crack at it and move on. He has done what he can and its time for new blood. Otherwise he is simply rerunning the last 7 years of relative failure on the basis the SRU dont have the funds to bin him after his protector in chief somehow inexplicable managed to tie him in for another 2 years. Which in itself causes another whole host of issues thereafter.

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  5. Many people are whinging about the tour but think is really wise to rest players heavily involved in the first 23. We don’t have great depth unlike other nations and we risk exhausting our pool if players don’t get sufficient down time.

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  6. Ahh cant wait to hear how beating a bunch of minnows has helped us over come our mental fragility. They will be “true tests that put us under significant pressure”. Which is all utter rubbish this summer tour will do nothing but be a nice introduction for a few fringe players etc to get introduced to test rugby. The next meaningful test will be in November. We have a much longer wait than the rest of the teams. Its a joke we don’t get picked to play the tier one teams. Last time we were in Aus we beat them! Show the state of Scottish Rugby and why we need to reverse the decline and actually win something of note so people take us seriously again!

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    • I’m not in favour of the world league but when it launches these tours will be a thing of the past. Instead we’ll be guaranteed at least one test against NZ, SA, Australia and Argentina every year, alternating home and away (as well as most likely Fiji and Japan).

      Considering we play the ABs roughly every five years at present and almost never have away games against NZ, SA and Australia, that is a huge increase in the difficulty of our test programme. Hopefully we’ll retain enough depth to cope.

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      • Agree FF that we should get far more games against top teams and therefore if we are going to play 2nd tier teams – don’t really like that term, suggests forever branded as such – we really must look at increasing our depth. So yes, rest a whole load of key/senior players and give the likes of Patterson, Rowe, Thompson, Dobie, Samuel, Williamson, Miller, Boyle, Muncaster and a load of others, inc U20s, a crack at proving a point. Have to start preparing the next generation of potential national team players.

    • I think Ross makes an excellent point regarding resting our front line players after a long World Cup season.
      I also think you may well be surprised by the ‘Minnows’ and if the touring squad is truly reflective of ‘fringe and emerging’ players neither USA or Canada will be a walk in the park if you recall their 7’s teams, Canada and the USA in particular served up some excellent performances, as for Uruguay and Chile, not sure, however as long as it isn’t a replication of Scotland’s tour to Argentina in 1969 when they targeted Ian Murchie and basically finished his playing career.
      Personally the result I would hope for is the identification of players that can step up and with regard to summer tours I’m content to quote Jim Telfer’s comments on how summer tours can find and enhance players.
      “Scottish rugby grew up in Argentina. “The tour was the making of McLauchlan, Laidlaw, Carmichael, Arneil and Brown who all became Lions in ’71 and it did wonders for McHarg as well. I give Mighty Mouse the credit for hardening up our rugby right through the ’70s after I’d gone. He was a lot tougher than me.” That’s good enough for me and perhaps use the search engine to read the full interview.

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      • This is spot on George. As a very old ‘has been’ having lived in England for 40 years I cannot comment on the current structure of rugby in Scotland but as a Debenture holder I return every year to support our team. I had the privilege of playing with Carmichael and Brown (God rest their soles) and Ian Murchie (who would have beena star even in the current professional era). I do feel that a hard disciplinarian needs to be involved in the coaching set up (a la Telfer and McGeechan) and Franco Smith comes to mind. Franco gets little credit for building the foundations of Italian Rugby that others now receive.
        One last moan which is my hate of the box kicking. Time after time we work hard to gain possession to then kick it away. In both the Italian and Ireland games belatedly we go through the phases and surprise surprise we score only too late.

  7. Every key stat down year on year – please please get a new coaching team in place, we are going backwards not forwards. At least Gatland had the decency to offer to resign.

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      • From the BBC – They say the league table doesn’t lie – and they’re right. Twelve months ago Scotland finished third in the Six Nations and this season they have finished fourth. Their number of wins has fallen from three to two, tries scored have fallen from 17 to 12, tries conceded have risen from 12 to 13.
        In 2023 they scored 118 points, but that fell a touch to 115. A year ago they shipped 98 points but that has climbed to 115. The points difference has dropped from plus-20 to zero. Last year, Scotland lost the penalty count 54-53 across all six games. This year they lost it 57-27.

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      • Best win percentage maybe but look at what he has actually won and lost and you realize that he really isn’t that good at all. He has beaten a lot of tier 2 nations but hasnt made a world cup quarter final or won a tournament and Scotland have at best stalled, at worst regressed under him.

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