Gregor Townsend reveals 'no quick fix' for mental side of Scotland's game but evidences why they can snap Ireland hoodoo

Head coach has full belief in his team heading into stiff Dublin test

Gregor Townsend has admitted there is “no quick fix” for the mental side of the game but has backed his Scotland side to put behind them the lapses in concentration which cost them in Italy last week as they seek a long-awaited win over Ireland.

You have to go back to 2010 for the last time the Scots won in Dublin but Townsend believes his squad is capable of busting their away-day hoodoo at the Aviva on Saturday. As evidence, he points to this team’s recent history in overcoming other long-standing winless streaks. They beat Wales in Cardiff for the first time in 22 years in the first round of this year’s Six Nations and in the 2021 championship they overcame England at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years and France in Paris for the first time since 1999.

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A win would give Scotland the Triple Crown but Townsend is more focused on delivering a performance that reflects better his team’s strengths after the disappointment of Rome where they squandered a 22-10 lead to lose 31-29. Much of the talk this week has been around the lapses that allowed Italy to wrestle back momentum in the second half and Scotland vice-captain Grant Gilchrist said the squad need to be stronger mentally.

Gregor Townsend leads his Scotland team to Dublin this weekend to face Ireland.Gregor Townsend leads his Scotland team to Dublin this weekend to face Ireland.
Gregor Townsend leads his Scotland team to Dublin this weekend to face Ireland.

Townsend is confident the Italy game was a one-off but knows a far more accurate performance will be required against an Irish side he described as being "virtually unbeatable at home" over the last couple of years.

"You’re never going to get the game that’s perfect," said Townsend. "No team plays a game where they are in control for 80 minutes. It’s about handling the times where the opposition, and our opponents are very good, have the upper hand. Let’s not make it even easier for them by giving them easy entries into our 22. On the weekend that did happen – two or three penalties we gave away were inaccuracies.

"It’s something we’ve talked about and we’ll look to address. We must do better in that period, but the game before that [against England] wasn’t the case, and before that wasn’t the case. Yes in Wales we gave away penalties in that period but I believe Italy was much more of a one-off in terms of our inaccuracies."

Scotland have employed the services of mental skills coach Aaron Walsh since 2022. The New Zealander has worked previously in Major League Baseball, rugby league, hockey and cricket. “He’s been really important," said Townsend. "I think the growth we’ve had mentally is evident in the Six Nations games we’ve played. The mental side of the game is not an easy fix. It’s something you’re working on continually, the players’ togetherness, how they deal with events that might be happening to them or to a team-mate, and how we get on to the next job. We didn’t do it well enough at the weekend. It took us too long to get back into a more accurate performance and by that stage it was almost too late to win the game.”

Ireland are the one Six Nations team Townsend has failed to get the better of as head coach and a victory on Saturday would surpass anything he has previously achieved. "We know how tough it's going to be," he said. "They're one of the top two teams in the world and at home they've been virtually unbeatable the last few years so it's going to require something special from our players."