GREGOR TOWNSEND last night paid tribute to his players for their heroic performance against the world’s best rugby team in pushing the All Blacks all the way before eventually washing up five points short of a first ever win in the 31st match between the two sides.
“Emotions are still high. Pride is the major emotion. The effort and ability shown throughout the game was outstanding. The courage and the fitness to keep on going and be accurate with ten minutes to go was great to see and encouraging for the future. And also the belief in the squad that even though we were down by 12 points, to keep on going back there was great,” he said.
“We generated a brilliant atmosphere, one of the best I have experienced and one I would have loved to have played in. It was a brilliant Test match, even in the first half when it was three-all – it was tense and competitive.
“We had a lot of pressure in the second half, a lot of territory and a lot of penalties close to the line, and not to get that try at the end is disappointing.”
“Our defensive effort was outstanding. We pressed hard and competed at the breakdown, we got back on our feet to tackle again, and that forced mistakes from New Zealand, it also forced them into a different game-plan, I believe – they were kicking maybe more than they settled out to do.
“The players showed what they are capable of, there was an energy about us and we wanted to take the game to the opposition and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
Stuart Hogg was named man-of-the-match after an outstanding performance and the full-back had a chance to clinch a sensational win in the last play of the match when he skipped past opposite number Damien McKenzie and broke down the left touchline, but Beauden Barrett got across to make a sensational cover tackle.
“Stuart dominated in the air, his decision making of when to kick and when to run was great, and he obviously looked lightening at the end but couldn’t get round for the try. That was us five points behind and you could pretty much guarantee Finn Russell would kick the conversion from the touchline because he seems to like those ones more than the ones in front of the posts,” smiled Townsend.
“There was an energy about us at training yesterday – more than there normally is – and there was an energy about us in the warm-up. You could just tell that the players were really focussed, and guys like Stuart and Finn [Russell] wanted to get on the ball and take the game to the opposition. That’s all you can hope for from a coach – that these guys want to get out there and play,” he added.
“Our forwards did a lot of hard work around the rucks and it maybe didn’t look like they were making a lot f yards but that just narrowed the defence a little bit. And our players made good decisions over whether to carry or to put it out the back and go wide, and the more we played the easier the decision making got for Finn Russell at ten and Stuart Hogg, who was at second receiver a lot of the time. But both teams wanted to play at a high tempo and it was credit to our players we could handle that tempo.
“In defence, we knew we couldn’t allow them to play because they are the best side in the world if they get time to play but we shut down their options.
“We also felt we could put pressure on them and our key decision makers did that very well.
“Losing Hamish Watson and Luke Hamilton to injury were blows but we will find out more tomorrow about them. We had to adjust with the injuries and we did that well.”
Meanwhile, skipper John Barclay said that the All Blacks knew they had been in a “proper Test match” after facing his team.
“I think both teams played with tempo, aggression and intent. You saw two teams who were going at it hard. We’re gutted – we feel like that is one that maybe got a way – but we are also very proud of how we played, and the effort and intensity of what we did out there,” he said.
“It’s very hard to play at that level and at that speed with skill. When you see guys like Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Huw Jones playing like that when they are under pressure and under fatigue – that is an exciting thing for the team.”
“We were playing against one of the best teams in world sport and with the last play we went from a kick-off in out own
“We conceded three tries and two of them in particular seemed like one-offs. So the focus under the posts was: Let’s get back up there. We’re dangerous when we’ve got the ball. Let’s not dwell too much on what just happened. So, I think we had a great ‘next-play’ mentality – we weren’t too fussed boy what had happened before or what was going to happen at the end of the game, we just wanted to get back into them and I think that showed.”
“It’s easy to make big statements but I think that was the most passionate and the loudest I have ever heard Murrayfield.”