Gregor Townsend: Australia are best attacking team in world

The rousing close-but-no-cigar '¨performance against the world champion All Blacks has been widely rated as Scotland's best performance in years but coach Gregor Townsend believes they will have to go up another notch to finish the autumn series on a high against Australia this Saturday.

Stephen Moore leads Australia in a training session at Peffermill in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Stephen Moore leads Australia in a training session at Peffermill in Edinburgh. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

For all the deserved plaudits that have come Scotland’s way in the wake of the 22-17 defeat, it is the case that they let the game slip in the second half and were left chasing, albeit thrillingly so, in the last ten minutes.

Anybody who thinks that Scotland need to just bring more of the same to knock off a team they have beaten three times in the last six meetings, and suffered close defeats against, is underestimating the danger presented by an in-form Australia, according to Townsend.

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“It’s moving on – we play the current No 3 team in the world – arguably the best attacking team in the world,” he said yesterday after naming his team.

“Australia beat New Zealand a few weeks ago. They were very good against Wales and had a lot of the game on a wet day against England, so we know we are playing one of the form teams in the world right now. If we drop our standards, we are not going to win.

“We’ve got to have the same endeavour [as the All Blacks game], the same mindset, the defensive performance in the first half especially, and what we did in the second half attack-wise – and then take it to another level. That’s the benefit of having another game this week. It is great for our guys that they get to go again. Yes, they are disappointed that they didn’t get the win, but we have another opportunity as a group to play a brilliant side and work to find a way to win.”

Australian rugby has had some difficult moments in recent years but that fiercely competitive antipodean sporting spirit always kicks in at times of hardship. The cruel “Wobblies” jibe, occasionally thrown at the Wallabies by rivals and their own unforgiving sporting media and public, hasn’t been heard much of late.

The two-time world champions, who gave the All Blacks a real contest in the most recent World Cup final, recovered from a heavy 54-34 home loss to their bitter trans-Tasman rivals this year with a close loss in the second Bledisloe Cup Test and then a win in the third.

Victories over South Africa, Argentina and Wales ahead of a freak 30-6 defeat by England last week when they could have drawn level with ten minutes to go only to leak three late tries, suggest a battle-hardened, well-gelled unit that has come a long way since Scotland scored a notable win over them in Sydney in June.

“They have improved a lot since then. They are a team on the up,” said Townsend. “The longer they have been together has helped them. They have excellent coaches. Michael Cheika being one, Stephen Larkham being another. Their fitness has improved a lot. I know that was something Southern Hemisphere commentators were talking about with Super Rugby. They look a very fit team. It’s the last game of their tour. They are probably hoping for dry weather given how wet it was last week [at Twickenham].

“They play a similar brand of rugby and have a similar mindset every time they go into a game, which is moving the target. They kick the ball the least of any international team. Their back-line is put together with brilliant attacking players – I think there are three players of Fijian origin there. They’ve got outstanding half-backs and Kurtley Beale at full-back, so this is a quality outfit.

“One of the best forwards in the world in Michael Hooper and they’ve got an experienced front-row, so they are a top team. Against the current No 3 team in the world, we know it is going to require a better performance than we gave last week to win.”

It was confirmed on Sunday that Scotland stand-off Finn Russell will be leaving Glasgow at the end of the season to an unstated club. It has been fairly well known for months that it was likely to be Racing 92 and Townsend began to say the Paris 
outfit’s name while discussing the matter before changing that with a smile to “whatever club he turns up”.

The coach said he had been kept in the loop throughout by a player he has had a huge influence on during his time as Warriors coach.

“Yes he kept both Glasgow and Scotland informed over the past few months,” said Townsend. “I think two or three months ago he spoke about how he really wants to make sure it’s the right decision for him, for rugby.”

Townsend enjoyed a far-travelled playing career himself so understands the wandering instinct, although he admitted he views things a bit differently through the prism of his current role.

“When you’re the national coach you have a different perspective,” he said. “The best thing for the national team is to have people playing in Scotland. We had four Exiles in camp for our first game. The whole backline was from Glasgow. It helps with coaching time, with player management. A lot of players got rested before the Samoa game. If more players left Scotland it’s going to be much tougher.

“We obviously wish Finn all the best. We’ve got two players playing in France who were injured but likely to be in our squad [Richie Gray and Greig Laidlaw]. We’ll now have a third but we have to make sure we don’t have too many players leave Scotland.”