Six Nations: ‘complacency’ and poor discipline are twin curses Scotland must address

Head coach Gregor Townend and captain Finn Russell had different views on why Scotland's performance fell off a cliff against Wales

Huw Jones says that Scotland made life hard for themselves against Wales by failing to follow simple instructions. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Huw Jones says that Scotland made life hard for themselves against Wales by failing to follow simple instructions. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THE relationship between Gregor Townsend and Finn Russell is clearly in a much better place now than during those fraught periods when the stand-off ended up exiled from the Scotland camp as a consequence of disagreements over team protocols or game strategy.

However, in the aftermath of Saturday’s brain-scrambling first win for the national team in Cardiff in 22 years, it was abundantly clear once again that the two dominant characters in the national squad are cut from very different cloth.

Russell shot from the hip when interviewed on the pitch immediately after his team’s much narrower than it should have been 26-27 win over Wales.


Six Nations: round one takeaways

Six Nations: Wales v Scotland player ratings

Sarah Beaney Cup: Hillhead Jordanhill and Watsonians make it two from two


“I’m probably a little bit disappointed, to be honest,” he said. “I mean the win is brilliant, but I think that second half was nowhere near where it needed to be.

“First half, we played really well and controlled the game, but second half the discipline was poor [with] two yellow cards which allowed them back into the game.

“I think when we scored that try at the start of the second half, we probably got a little bit complacent, to be honest. I think we probably thought the game was done, but there was still a long way to go, especially away from home.

“The frustrating thing from that was that the points we were making weren’t being listened to. One of the main things was to leave the ruck and we kept on going into the ruck. We got a yellow-card for going into the ruck too many times and a yellow-card for going offside so that is something we will have to review as a team.

“And when we are getting messages from the coaches or from the players then we need to listen to it. If the message is to leave the ball and we are still going for it, then the individuals who are going for it need to have to have a look at their game and what they are doing because it is putting us under pressure.”

No names mentioned, but Russell made it clear that he felt let down by certain players failing to follow simple instructions, that he felt there should be accountability, and – crucially – that Scotland cannot be happy scraping through a game against bang-average opposition which was done and dusted at half-time.

You’d hope that there will be some introspection there as well. Russell was far from blameless in that shambolic half hour, giving the ball back to Wales when the game needed to be shut down. But it was refreshing to hear some candour from the Scotland stand-off all the same.

 

Meanwhile, Townsend – perhaps mindful of his chequered history with Russell – was careful not to directly criticise his captain’s analysis. But he couldn’t live with the lack of positive spin.

The coach accepted that it was not a complete performance from his team, but reasoned that this wasn’t a consequence of any sort of deficiency in mindset.

“I know Finn used the term ‘complacency’ – I wouldn’t probably be as hard as that,” he said. “It’s probably a natural feeling when it’s never happened before for a Scotland team to be 20-0 up [in Cardiff] at half-time, 27-0 up just after it.

“It’s easy to say ‘just keep the same intensity and level’, that would be brilliant, but there are going to be times when the opposition do get momentum.

“They’re a quality side – we just can’t help them increase that momentum by being down to 14 men and giving away penalties. That’s what really cost us a chance to get a foothold in that second half.”

Semantics? Maybe.

Or maybe it is further evidence of the Scotland coach’s refusal to confront a difficult truth?

Like, after his team’s World Cup pool stage loss to South Africa last September, when he was asked about his team’s habit of coughing up tries in costly clusters and dismissed out of hand the notion that there may be a problem with maintaining focus under pressure.

“It happens in games,” he retorted, after watching Scotland go from 6-3 down to 18-3 down in the space of three minutes against the Springboks.

“I wouldn’t say it was a theme. If you’re talking about themes, previously it would have been us being behind at half-time,” he added, before seeming to confirm that Scotland had failed to cope when the Springboks upped the ante.

“We obviously had possession then we had a fumble, they got a scrum penalty, got through a few phases, then got another scrum penalty. They were putting us under pressure, so you have to credit them for making the most of their opportunities.”

It was a similar story in Scotland’s World Cup warm-up defeat to France, when two Les Bleus tries in two minutes led to a 30-27 defeat. And against Ireland in the penultimate round the 2023 Six Nations when it was 10-7 to the opposition going into the last quarter before two tries in five minutes created the final score-line of 22-7. And against France a few weeks earlier when they lost two tries and Grant Gilchrist to a red-card inside three minutes at the start of a 32-21 defeat in Paris.

 

Centre Huw Jones also spoke to the press after Saturday’s match and was typically thoughtful and honest in his assessment of Scotland’s disciplinary problems.

“Discipline is not just penalties, it is sticking to the plan, and doing what you’ve said you are going to do,” he pointed out.

“And I think at different times we were all guilty of maybe that panic of ‘we need to get that turnover now’ and trying to solve something by ourselves, which doesn’t work, especially when you are a man down and the opposition are playing wide to wide which means you are chasing touchline to touchline. It wasn’t ideal.

“Our response to what they brought in that second half wasn’t good enough, but we had the right messages, and we need to be better as a team responding to those messages.

“We spoke about it, and across the board we were guilty. When we were one man down, we talked about not putting our heads into rucks, and then I went and put my head in a ruck at one point.

“The things is, we had the right plan,” he added. “We were saying the right things. We did it in the first half, but we didn’t quite do it in the second half, and I think I’ve said so many similar things after tight losses before.

“A five-minute period or a ten-minute period has let us down and we’ve lost the game. That happened today but we’re really happy that we’ve come out of it and we’ve won, but I guess it’s still happening and it’s something we really need to fix if we want to continue to grow and win big games.”

Perhaps Jones and the other culprits instinctively felt that attacking Wales at source to stop them getting fast ball to the wide channels would be the more effective strategy. Perhaps they were right. But that wasn’t the plan, and Scotland’s failure to get everyone on the same page when the chips were down needs to be addressed ahead of the arrival for France at Murrayfield this coming Saturday.

Some of the negative reaction to the Wales performance has been hyperbolic in the extreme. A win in Cardiff after 22 years of pain is not to be sniffed at, regardless of the deficiencies of the opposition. And everybody loves the drama which Scotland have become masters of producing.

But, on the flip side, Scotland do need to address their nasty habit of falling out of games at crucial moments. It is not good enough to shrug and say: ‘At least we got away with that one!’

At the Principality Stadium, Scotland failed to pick up a bonus point which was there for the taking and handed their rivals two. If they truly consider themselves serious contenders for the title, they should acknowledge this as a big time fail, and be kicking themselves for being so slapdash – complacent – when all that was needed was some focus and precision to kill Wales off.


Six Nations: round one takeaways

About David Barnes 3821 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.

18 Comments

  1. My take on Scotland’s performance against Wales, & that of other recent games, is we’re too one-dimensional, which can work wonderfully well when everything aligns, but if not then we struggle to adapt and don’t appear to have alternate game plans that we can quickly & easily transition onto, whether that’s in defence or offence. When Wales changed their players & tactics in the second half the Scotland team hugely struggled to cope with this and gave away far too many penalties trying to overzealously get back into the game & onto the front foot. The coaches & senior players failed to appreciate & tactically adapt to the changing conditions, which is a major failing & will be exploited by future opposition teams if not addressed.

  2. I know there is a lot of blame for Townsend on the threads and a lot of comments about not playing for the coach but these are well paid professional players who should give there all for Scotland and should know what their jobs are in every facet of play. I still remain staggered by the 2 line out maul tries conceded where 4 forwards were in completely the wrong place and drove up the side of the maul taking themselves out of the game and allowing Wales to steam over the line. Simply lost focus and didn’t do their job that they must practice endlessly at training. Townsend or any of the other coaches didn’t teach them to do this so why did they do it. Ireland would never have conceded these tries because everyone knows their job and they execute with precision on the day every day. I have no idea why some of our guys have these aberrations during the game but you cant blame the coach when players make basic mistakes on the day. Players need to take responsibility.

    I can only hope some of these technical mistakes will be ironed out this week ahead of the French game and we will see less errors on Saturday.

    • Great point on the line outs. Easy, like school ground stuff, to get 2 tries. Made us look totally unorganised. Ironic thing is Glasgow have an amazing line out game, why are none of these skills transferred to the national side?
      France strategy on Saturday, kick to the corner every time as they know it’s a guaranteed 5 points. Will get ugly quite quickly if we can’t shut that down asap.

  3. seven years of sound bites, u turns and throwing fellow coaches and players under the bus and it is so obvious as already pointed out by many the players do not go the extra mile for their coach. I think the majority of the squad think that he is a c u next tuesday and scottish rugby is a small village and we have all heard stories about the way he operates.

    14
    8
  4. Back row was unbalanced on Saturday with all 3 being 6s in terms of their best position. I think you would go with Fagerson at 6, Christie at 7, and Dempsey at 8.

    I’d also be inclined to drop Turner to the bench and go with Ashman as Turner was an absolute liability with his yellow card and other infringements.

    Get Cam Redpath at 12 and put Tui at 13 as we will need a more robust defender in the 13 channel against France.

    3
    9
    • Huw had a great game. He put in 13 tackles, which was 11th most across all players from the weekend and also the highest amount from any backs player. Sione isn’t in the top 20 for tackles. Still don’t know why Huw’s defence is getting questioned. Stick with Sione at 12 and Jones at 13, Redpath off the bench is a great option.

      30
    • Don’t understand the calls to replace Jones

      46 metres made
      3 defenders beaten
      13/14 tackles made. Personally i think that was one of Jones best defensive performances.

      I believe it’s just a perception when a team concedes a lot of tries that there is an issue in the 13 channel, breaks made/tries scored by Wales rarely had anything to do with him.

      I’d agree to drop Turner.. difficult when his physicality and ability to put his body on the line is a big point of difference. I’d start Matthews and have Turner down to bench. Thought Ashman offered little on this occasion.

      I think Reffel showed the value of having a proper jackler on the team especially when on the back foot as Wales were the first 45, he kept them in the game, for that reason i’d go a similar player in Darge (will take the risk of freshness), as no doubt we will have large patches ourselves on the back-foot against France.

      Crosbie – Darge – Dempsey (Christie on Bench) if Crosbie is out, Fagerson on bench, Christie at 6.

      One of the areas Ireland really took advantage of against France was the kicking game of the back 3, its slightly unorthodox but i’d be tempted to include Hutchinson or Healy at 15 for that reason (despite Rowe impressing considering the circumstances).

      22
      1
  5. Not sure what exactly we have to be overconfident about – if anything it’s a lack of self-belief our guys have suffered from of late, because clearly they fail to back their own considerable ability for 80 minutes when the chips are truly down. The discipline thing I get totally. It was an utter shocker which encouraged O’Keefe to close one eye.

    Turner running his mouth off and bitching constantly to the ref was frankly plain dumb and a total liability. But add to that the old problem creeping in of failing to hit his target as the game progressed and there is a strong case for binning the lad for the next one. Frankly Ashman’s RADAR isn’t any better and for all that Johnny ‘Choo-choo’ Matthews may not have the same kudos as the other two, he could school them both in a game of darts. Which at the end of the day is the first and foremost job of a number two.

    I still can’t comprehend how Christie was entirely ignored by Townsend – and after Saturday’s performance surely he can’t be given the cold shoulder again? A word of warning, his first cap came in 2022 and he will soon be dual-qualified once more. Use him or lose him, because the English will. At least he made the squad though, which is more than poor old Magnus Bradbury did. He would offer a very different and more powerful option in the back row within the wider group.

    Hutchinson is another unlucky victim of the Toony blinkers, having to watch the rest of the Northampton back line running out for England on Saturday while he clicked his heels. In fairness though he occupies another part of the pitch in which we have no shortage of excellent options, so he is unlucky.

    Whatever the team selection for Saturday, I would like to see a bit more imagination from Townsend in the more contested areas. Rewarding the usual suspects simply isn’t good enough. It destroys competition, prevents any hope of progress and sends out entirely the wrong message. I wonder what he will do though, for there isn’t much time to turn the ship around before it gets hit by the more fancied teams. It’s time to do or die. Again.

    30
    1
  6. Last Saturday’s game between Wales and Scotland felt more like a Scotland loss than a marginal win.

    I saw the game as less of a Welsh resurgence and more of a Scottish collapse – a collapse in discipline and a collapse in strategy.

    7
    2
  7. None of the players want to play for Toonie. Not surprised, look at the lack lustre rendition of the anthem in comparison to others. Tell you all you need to know.
    This will all fall away. Then we will be left with barely any talent coming up because imports take precedent and the cashflow from the packed Murrayfield is paying over inflated salaries and ot infrastructure.

    13
    40
    • Current homegrown squad you could pick

      Kinghorn – Graham – Bennett – McDowall – Rowe – Russell – Horne – Fagerson – Darge – Crosbie – Cummings – Gray – Fagerson – Turner – Bhatti

      Hastings – Dobie – Bradbury – Gray – Gilchrist – Walker – Sutherland – Hiddleston (could add the excellent but young Paterson on the bench for 5/3).

      Ain’t perfect but that homegrown team would beat any homegrown team over the past 2 decades i would think.

      13
      1
  8. None of us know the difference between what the media hears from Townswend and what the players hear, but it does appear there will be some blunt talking on Monday from the players at least.

    I didn’t comment on the selection of the team for Cardiff at the time, acceptng some choices were made out of necessity, but I couldn’t follow the logic of the free choices made. I found Ritchie’s presence a puzzle, but I suppose he’s viewed as a leader and two others, Gilchrist and Darge, weren’t available. That should mean Ritchie offered leadership and direction, but the headless chickens of the second half lacked that very thing, which is made clear from Russell and Jones’ comments above. Ritchie wasn’t there on form.

    Dempsey now has more minutes, Darge is to be available for the home game against France, but we don’t know how long Darge might play, or if Townsend is willing or able to learn from past mistakes. Should the back row be shaken up more than who starts and should form be ignored? What does the prospect of France mean for the pack in general, bearing in mind some of the French forwards are the size of small freighters?

    We’ll have to see how the rest of the 6 Nations go, as everything did look rosy after about 42 minutes, but it all too clearly wasn’t. Still, a win’s a win and it’s our first in Cardiff in 22 years, so let’s enjoy that at the very least.

    20
    1
  9. I actually thought Russell was pretty good second half when everyone else was loosing it. It was the last 5 minutes of the first half when he got too loose unnecessarily. Throwing an offload to rowe stuck in the corner who then got charged down.

    14
    0
  10. Questions have to be asked about Townsend and his utter arrogance in ignoring his failings after matches. He takes no responsibility and instead tries to put a spin on things that happen during a game, even after his own players have highlighted the problem. He took no responsibility after 2 world cups, instead choosing to repeat cliches, his man management skills are woeful and he isn’t the tactical genius people are making him out to be.
    Look how those Irish boys play for Farrell, he listens to them, he leads them and they play for him as a unit and it shows. Townsend has one title to his name and did nothing in Europe with Glasgow despite the talent he had and now it’s the same with Scotland. Sorry but Scotland isn’t where they are because of Townsend, Townsend is where he is because he has a very talented squad at his disposal. Time for a change.

    45
    22
    • It is fairly clear to me that some, most or all the current squad do not play for Townsend.

      We continually deliver less than the sum of our parts. Ireland, Wales and France consistently deliver performances that are greater than the sum of their parts (much greater in a lot of cases). They do that for Farrell, Gatland and Galthie because they believe in them.

      There are the odd exceptions, of course. France on Friday may have been a case in point, our 38-38 with England may have been (although the rumour is the players started following Finn rather than Toony in the 2nd half that day) but the difference is most striking when things aren’t going well.

      Seven years in, we still seem hell bent on giving Toony the benefit of the doubt but I’m not sure what he has done to deserve this? God help us if we don’t change soon because the signs are that England and now Italy have got coaches that the players will run through a brick wall for.

      28
      13

Leave a Reply

Please be respectful in your replies. Abusive language is automatically blocked. Your email address will not be published.


*