Six Nations: Scotland coach Gregor Townsend explains why this year will be different

The return of supporters will change the dynamic at this season’s Guinness Six Nations and Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend expects home advantage to return with a vengeance.

Scotland bust two long-standing hoodoos in last year’s Championship, recording their first victory at Twickenham in 38 years and their first in Paris since 1999.

The away wins, both thrilling in their own ways, were nevertheless achieved in empty stadiums.

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Townsend is honest enough to recognise the part this played in levelling the playing field just as he recognises the impact an empty Murrayfield had on the narrow home losses to Wales, by a single point, and Ireland, by three.

Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg celebrate with the Calcutta Cup after Scotland's 11-6 win over England at Twickenham in 2021. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

With Scotland due to travel to Wales, Italy and Ireland this season and play host to England and France, the prospect of playing in front of full houses is one which excites Townsend even if it is likely to make his job harder given the balance of fixtures.

“It does make a difference,” said the Scotland coach, speaking at the official Six Nations launch. “We have three away games this year so that is more challenging with the crowds back but we all want them back as Six Nations games are amazing and a full crowd at BT Murrayfield is a big boost for us.

“It is not as big a challenge as taking on opposition with a great scrum but it is a factor. Wales have always done well in the Six Nations in recent years and they have probably the noisiest support. We have done very well over the last two or three seasons off the back of sell-out crowds at Murrayfield as well as the performances of the players so we know what we have to take on this year.

“Last year it was 15 players against 15 players with no advantages for either side. This year teams at home will fancy their chances more than visiting teams. It is a challenge for us but we are ready for it and we have to thrive in a noisy atmosphere, whether it is for or against us.”

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend with captain Stuart Hogg at the 2022 Guinness Six Nations Championship launch. Picture: ©INPHO/GUINNESS Six Nations

It all kicks off a week on Saturday when England visit Edinburgh. If Scotland supporters viewed the Calcutta Cup with something akin to trepidation in the not too distant past, the national side’s record in the fixture under Townsend is something worth celebrating.

Two wins, a draw and a defeat against Eddie Jones’ team give the Scotland coach the edge, with last year’s victory particularly impressive.

Townsend isn’t one to play down the importance of the game which has served up four memorable encounters in his time in charge. The 2018 win in which Huw Jones scored a stunning brace was celebrated with much gusto and the 38-38 draw the following year at Twickenham will go down as one of the most breathtaking Test matches of all time.

A 13-6 defeat at a storm-battered Murrayfield in 2020 is Townsend’s only loss to England as head coach but revenge was extracted last year in that rare Twickenham victory.

Duhan van der Merwe powers through for Scotland's try against England in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

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“We know it’s a huge fixture for our players, our country,” he said. “I think that most teams that play England in the Six Nations, it’s their biggest fixture, but it is for us. It’s the oldest fixture in the history of international rugby and we play for a famous trophy, so it is a standalone game amongst a fantastic tournament.

“The games have been competitive the last four years, so that’s a positive for the fixture. We believe it will be a really competitive game, but it’s a new game. We can’t reference back to 2018 or last year - we’ve got to play the game in front of us. And we must deliver in all areas.

“We know England will test us in the forwards, they’ll test us with their attacking game and their defence, and we have to be at our best to win those moments - but also win the game.

“You have to play close to your best rugby to beat a team with England’s quality. You have to front up at set piece and physically - that’s a traditional strength of England.

“Our strengths are, we believe, a game of movement, a game of speed. We did that in 2018 in that first half and at times last year in the first half even though it was wet conditions. But also you’ve got to defend well. In 2018 England had a lot of the ball in the second half, and again last year England had a lot of ball, so all aspects of your game have to be in place.

“But for us, we have to be able to get our game out. It’s not just a case of taking on a top side and stopping their strengths: no, we have to put our game out on the field, show our players’ strengths, show what we believe are our strengths as a team. And we did that at times last year and especially in 2018.”

This will be Townsend’s fifth campaign in charge, making him the longest serving Scotland coach of the Six Nations era. It hasn’t all been plain sailing but his longevity has taught him how to get the best out of his squad - and that it doesn’t just come down to rugby reasons.

“I say to the players to be themselves when they come here,” he said. “That is what we want to see from them as people and as players. Bring out your strengths and in this environment means you can be ourselves here.

“I have felt over the last couple of seasons, with this group, that those experiences we have had together I have really enjoyed. It may not seem the most important thing because there are other things, tactical and technical, going on but I think from a coach’s perspective if you love what you are doing that should transfer to the players and help them.”

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