GREGOR Townsend has insisted that Scotland are not far away from claiming a major victory on the road despite the glaring faults in Saturday’s 28-8 defeat by Ireland.
Although the head coach said immediately after that match that his team were “three or four years behind Ireland”, he later explained he was referring to the length of time the new Six Nations champions have been together as a team, not to how long he expects it will take for Scotland to catch them up. And, while those handling errors were extremely costly, he believes that just about every other aspect of his team’s play in the Aviva Stadium was exactly as required for a big away win.
“They gain a lot of confidence and momentum in how they play,” Townsend said of Ireland. “When the opposition are making errors or they’re creating chances themselves.
“That group’s been together a while and they’ve had a lot of success, especially at the Aviva, over the years. That’s the journey we’re on: we’ve done well at Murrayfield and we have to make sure we take our chances when we play well away from home. That was the difference: we played well, we didn’t take our chances.
“It might sound daft because we lost four tries to one, but that mentality, the way we defended, the detail in our game apart from the finishing, is what we need to do to win away from home. We caused a very good side a lot of problems and we asked a lot of our players. We delivered most of what we wanted from an away performance.
“I didn’t mean we’ve got three years to catch them up,” he continued. “I hope we can do it much quicker than that. This [Irish] team has a lot of experience together, lot of players in their late 20s having come through together, winning championships, being in last-game deciders for championships.
“It’s been relatively recent that we’ve won three games in the championship. The more games we’re involved in that are close, or we win, we’ll get that confidence and take us to a place where we’ll contend more regularly, and beat teams like that.”
Forza La Scozia
If Scotland win in Rome on Saturday they will have won three games in this season’s championship, but predictably, Townsend is taking nothing for granted against Italy. “That’s going to be a tough game. They’ve probably had a red circle on March 17 for a while, that home game against Scotland.
“We’re just looking for progress, and we’re a really tough team to play against. If that leads to wins even better, but we’ve got to make sure that progress continues next week.”
And, despite the handling errors that cost his side a couple of tries, not to mention the interception from which Ireland scored, Townsend is no doubt that Saturday also represented – certainly when compared to Scotland’s previous away outing in Cardiff.
BT Premiership 10 March 2018
“Totally different,” he said when asked if he saw similarities between the two games. “Whether it’s 20 points or one point we lost the game, that’s what we’re upset about. But that was much more of a game.
“Three clear-cut chances could be 21 points and Ireland scoring off an intercept could be a different game. It wasn’t and that’s down to us, but that performance was miles ahead of the one in Cardiff.
“I want to mention a couple of aspects, I thought our forward pack was outstanding. We respect the Irish forward pack a lot and for us to do so well against them gives us lots of encouragement for the future. I thought Simon Berghan did well: we now have depth at tighthead.
The Kinghorn Effect
“And Blair Kinghorn on his debut was fantastic. Playing Ireland away from home with their running threats and their intricate plays, also their kicking game. Blair looked confident, made a few breaks and did really well, so that was very pleasing.”
Sean Maitland, too, was keen to praise the work of his fellow-winger. “He could have had his hat-trick,” the Saracens back said. “He’s a big strong fella and he played really well.
“It’s great to see young players coming through like him – it’s what you need. During the build-up he was super chilled. He seems like he’s in his own world, keeping his head down.
“That’s all you can ask from the young fella. He’s worked bloody hard, he’s obviously had his opportunity – and he’s definitely taken it.”