Scotland Rugby World Cup reaction: Gregor Townsend accept responsibility and says improvement needed as three players suffer injuries

Gregor Townsend acknowledged Scotland have to do better and accepted responsibility after Ireland ended their World Cup hopes with a crushing 36-14 win in Paris.

It is the second time in a row they have exited at the pool stage, and the third time in nine tournaments. Scotland finished third in Pool B which was won by Ireland, who will now face New Zealand in the quarter-finals. Defending champions South Africa, who beat Scotland in Marseille, finished second and will meet hosts France in the last eight.

Townsend pointed to the toughness of the draw which paired Scotland with the world's top two sides and also highlighted Scotland's limited success across the World Cup, where they have never beaten a team ranked above them.

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"I think you need to look at each World Cup differently," said Townsend, who recently signed a new contract taking him up to the end of the 2026 Six Nations. "We were drawn against the number one and number two teams in the world, and we lost to them both. We’ve never beaten a team ranked above us in any World Cup we’ve played in, so you might have to go all the way back to 1987 to ask: can we do better?

Scotland's head coach Gregor Townsend looks on as Ireland crush hopes of Rugby World Cup progression.Scotland's head coach Gregor Townsend looks on as Ireland crush hopes of Rugby World Cup progression.
Scotland's head coach Gregor Townsend looks on as Ireland crush hopes of Rugby World Cup progression.

“We certainly have to do better, and the responsibility is mine. We believed we could get out of this pool, and we still believed that after losing to South Africa with the response the players showed in training and the games they played have us an opportunity tonight, which we didn’t take – Ireland took.

“They are a better team than us on tonight’s performance, and they’ve won 17 games in a row so they’ve clearly been the better team over the last couple of years. Now, if we can get on the journey they have been on the last few years then great – but it is easy saying that, it is another thing doing it.

“You become a better team through defeats as well as victories, and we’ve got to make sure that this defeat makes us a better team for the Six Nations coming up and the next World Cup, although at this point the Six Nations is much more relevant.”

Townsend was asked if he was concerned about the lack of talent coming through the ranks in Scottish rugby. The national under-20 side has struggled since Covid and it has been years since a player graduated to the senior team. “At a young level, that’s right," said Townsend. "But I would say this World Cup has shown we’ve got really good depth in the top 30. We’ve got 33 players here and we made 12 changes between our last two games, so the players in this group and just outside this group are Test quality, but we have to get more players through.

Jamie Ritchie was left with his arm in a sling after the defeat by Ireland.Jamie Ritchie was left with his arm in a sling after the defeat by Ireland.
Jamie Ritchie was left with his arm in a sling after the defeat by Ireland.

“The way Irish rugby is set up, they could dominate world rugby for the next five to ten years, because they are the number one team in the world and they have a pro rugby system which is very strong, and they’ve got an age-group system that is very strong, so that should continue for them. We’ve got to do better. The group of players have got to fifth in the world, which is the best place we’ve ever been in in terms of the Scotland national team, but we have to make sure that continues, not for the next couple of years but the next 10 years."

Scotland were 26-0 down at half-time after conceding four tries and fell 36-0 behind early in the second half. A record defeat against Ireland looked on the cards until Ewan Ashman and Ali Price scored a quick fire double for Scotland to restore some pride. "They were very clinical, very accurate and I thought they put a huge effort in defensively when we had a bit of pressure in that first 20 minutes," Townsend said of the Irish performance. "They are an outstanding team and we saw that tonight. When you play the top teams, you've got to take your opportunities and we didn't do that in the first quarter. That was probably our best period of the game and when the game was lost we did come back into it.

"I'm proud of the effort in the second half. The game had gotten away from us, so we focused on winning back respect. To get two tries against such a top team, we'll take a little bit out of that."We're very disappointed with the result and the first-half performance, but credit to Ireland who were very, very good."

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Jamie Ritchie, the Scotland captain, injured his shoulder and had to be withdrawn after 20 minutes. Blair Kinghorn had to off even earlier after failing an HIA when he hit someone's knee accidentally. Darcy Graham also limped with hip flexor injury.