Gregor Townsend yesterday gave the predictable response to the inevitable question of whether he would be throwing his hat into the ring for the post of head coach of England, insisting, instead, that he has a great deal of sympathy for Stuart Lancaster, a man he clearly respects.
“That’s a silly question,” he retorted, when asked if he could see himself taking over the poisoned chalice at Twickenham.
Stuart was kind enough to allow me a day with him earlier this year to talk about coachingGregor Townsend
“It is a sad day for coaching when someone who has put a lot of effort in and really transformed English rugby, especially culturally, and got everyone behind it, loses his job,” he added.
“Stuart was kind enough to allow me a day with him earlier this year, to visit him and talk about coaching, and he shared a lot of stuff that he had learned.
“It is sad when you see this happen to a guy who you know cared so much about the job. But we understand this is professional sport and that’s what happens. It happens much more in football than rugby, but it is not a great day for someone who gives his time for me to help my growth as a coach.
“It just shows what a massive job it is. Obviously, they hosted a World Cup, they have the most players, probably the richest union, and the most media following them – so he and the team are under huge scrutiny and that is where rugby has gone. It has gone from being an amateur sport to one getting used to being professional and to having a really high profile.”
Rather than spend too long mourning the loss of a fallen comrade, the Glasgow Warrior was clearly intent on focusing on the job which faces him this week.
Townsend’s future after his current contract runs out at the end of the season may be far from certain, and one of the most exciting and successful young coaches in Europe will have no shortage of suitors from England and France. That, though, was clearly at the back of his mind yesterday as he spoke about his desire to see the club he has coached for the last three seasons qualify for the knockout stages of the European Champions Cup for the first time.
The Scotstoun outfit get their campaign under way on Saturday afternoon against Racing 92 at Stade Yves-Du-Manoir in north west Paris.
“Last year was our best effort since I’ve been here. One of the best games we have ever produced was against Bath at home, and then we won in a very different way in Montpellier. We just weren’t able to follow that up. We were inches away from a quarter-final last year when Sean Maitland stretched to score a try which would have got us a win at Bath [but didn’t quite make it],” he said.
“I felt very proud of them that day because we had to do different things with selection and playing Bath away is a difficult task. I felt we were by far the better team and we just have to take our opportunities.
“So that shows how close we are. And it shows how good you have to be. There is frustration there because I believe this playing group has the potential to go into the latter stages.”
Townsend believes that now his team have tasted success in the Guinness Pro 12, they are better equipped than ever before to get this European monkey off their back.
“There are reasons why we have not qualified in the past. The first is that we have not been good enough consistently and the second is that it is very tough. Even if we play very well we are up against some quality teams. We have to play close to our best for six games and I believe, if we do that, we will get into the latter stages because we have the players to go up against the best teams in Europe,” he added.
“This weekend all the games will be great. The new system of qualification has really helped our Pro12, and now, with the 20 best teams in Europe, the quality has gone up. It is much tougher to get through and it means you are up against big teams all the time.
“It would be great if we were consistently challenging for the latter stages. We’ve done that in the Pro12 for the last four years … five of the last six years.
“It is tougher doing it in Europe, but we have built the foundations to go on with confidence.”