Townsend, 50, has put pen to paper on a contract extension which will see him lead the national side up until April 2026, meaning he will be in post for nine years if he sees it through to its conclusion. It has been a drawn out process, with Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson openly admitting he had courted other coaches, while Townsend himself had contact from France about a potential new role. Dodson is understood to have sounded out Leon MacDonald, the Auckland Blues coach, but Townsend said he bore no ill will towards Dodson over the contract wrangling and revealed that he was first verbally offered a new deal in Paris after Scotland’s Six Nations defeat by France on February 26.
“The process is the process,” said Townsend, whose current contract was due to expire after this autumn’s Rugby World Cup in France. “Sometimes things are played out privately, sometimes quicker, sometimes you get bad news. Some time along the line I thought there would not be a contract offer. That was definitely my feeling going into the Six Nations. That made the England game even more emotional for me. I don’t know if it was that or the crowds being there but it felt a really emotional day when we got the win. It was very much in the front of my mind this would be the last time I would be here coaching this team so I am delighted that is not the case.”
While expressing his delight at signing the extension, it was a decision Townsend did not take lightly and he spent time weighing up the offer before committing. “We got to the stage where there was a contract offer and we agreed it,” he said. “That is the outcome of what we wanted and I am delighted it has happened. I am sure there are frustrations over the last few months but it was in the room over there after the France game when Mark said he would like to offer me a contract extension. That was great news but I needed to have time to reflect on it. Over the last couple of months we have had the discussions going and have got to the stage where I am very happy.”
In an era when trigger-happy chief executives can lose patience and supporters tend to have short attention spans, Townsend’s longevity is all the more remarkable. His record in the job trumps anything achieved by his predecessors in the professional era. The 66 Scotland matches he has taken charge of have produced 36 wins, one never-to-be-forgotten draw, against England in 2019, and 29 losses. “I feel massively fortunate,” added Townsend, who named a 41-man Rugby World Cup training squad on Tuesday. “You pinch yourself that you’re in this role in the first place and then that you can continue in it. As much as I would have been really disappointed not to have been in the role, I feel very fortunate to be still in it.”
Asked why it had taken so long to get the deal done when he had been asked to stay on almost three month ago, Townsend said: “It was an offer in principle when they say, ‘we would love you to stay on’. We had two games still to go [in the Six Nations] and I wanted some time off after that to reflect. It’s just really been the last two weeks [that it got finalised]. I was away at the Hong Kong 7s so it wasn’t a huge rush to get this done. It took a while to get to this point. It’s good that we got it sorted before the squad announcement. That’s the next big thing on the horizon, getting the guys in in three weeks’ time and working with them. I’m glad it’s sorted before then.”
Scotland will assemble on May 29 for a four-week training camp and there were few real surprises in the squad named by Townsend. Stafford McDowall and Cameron Henderson are the only two uncapped players included but both were part of the recent Six Nations squad. Adam Hastings, Darcy Graham and Rory Darge all return after injury ruled them out of the Six Nations, and there is also a recall for Stuart McInally, who is one of four hookers in the party. McInally is included after announcing his intention to retire from rugby after the tournament to become a pilot. His Edinburgh team-mate Dave Cherry joins him in the squad along with Glasgow Warriors’ George Turner and Sale’s Edinburgh-bound Ewan Ashman but there is no place for either Fraser Brown or Johnny Matthews, Glasgow’s two other hookers. Townsend will trim his squad from 41 to 33 for the World Cup which kicks off for Scotland against holders South Africa in Marseille on September 10 and continues with Pool B fixtures versus Tonga, Romania and Ireland. The coach said he was confident Brad Mooar, Pete Horne and Aaron Walsh would all remain part of his backroom team for the tournament.