The relationship between rugby and football in Scotland is occasionally a fraught one beset by snide sniping and mutual suspicion, if not contempt, but that is not a view you would ever hear from soccer lover Gregor Townsend.
The national teams of both codes have been based at the Oriam centre at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, sharing the new hotel next to the state-of-the-art training facility and have enjoyed mixing together and comparing notes as one prepares to face the Springboks at BT Murrayfield and the other a crucial Uefa Nations League double header against Albania and Israel.
Both coaching teams enjoyed a friendly bounce game of football at the centre earlier in the week. “Mike Blair was pretty good, though not so good around the goal,” said Townsend of his skills coach.
“The players did a review of our performance and they picked on the head coach’s workrate and Mike’s finishing. Sean Lamont was quite a good goalkeeper and big Al [Kellock] was the rock in defence, though I can see why he picked rugby!”
Some sections of the rugby community undoubtedly look down on the association code, with its brash, money-soaked ubiquitousness and the perceived “softness” of its play-acting prima donnas.
There is a class element to some of the bad blood on either side but it’s not something Borderer Townsend holds any truck with.
“I would never have held that view. I am a football fan and played until I was 13, not a long career but I played a couple of seasons for a boys club in Edinburgh [Hutchison Vale] and I loved it,” said the national rugby coach.
Townsend said he had enjoyed chats with his footballing counterpart Alex McLeish this week. “We were talking about how a day looks for us and for them,” he explained.
“We have similar challenges having to deal with a group of late teenagers to early 30s.
“Football is a resource there and was my first sport to visit, whether in Scotland or in England. More and more managers from football are coming to rugby as well. It works both ways.
“[Then St Mirren, now Sunderland manager] Jack Ross was in with us the week of the England game [in February] and we had a number of managers that visited us at Glasgow so it was good we could share information.”