Scotland Six Nations verdict: Gregor Townsend on what went right and wrong as Scots finish in bottom half once more
Raking over the embers of a Six Nations campaign in which Scotland lost more games than they won for the first time since 2019, Gregor Townsend sought solace in the way the team improved in the final three games after the dismal defeat in Wales.
The hosts duly outscored the Scots by four tries to one, clinching a well deserved Triple Crown but missing out on the championship as France completed the Grand Slam with a win over England in Paris.
The problem for Scotland is that they remain so far behind a team they will meet once again in the pool stage of next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Scotland went into this championship with high hopes, with Townsend describing the squad as the strongest he had worked with since 1999, the year they last won the title.
A win over England in the opening weekend raised expectations further but then came the reality check in Cardiff. A home defeat by a dazzling French side followed and there was no disgrace in that, and Scotland then went to Rome and secured a bonus-point victory over Italy before the loss in Dublin consigned them to a fourth-place finish.
It’s the third year in a row Scotland have finished in the bottom half of the table.
“Over the championship we have got better,” insisted Townsend. “We were disappointed, really disappointed, at the performance in Wales. We have to learn as a group from these situations.
“We chased the game too early against France and even although we created opportunities we made it easier for France in the second half.
“Against Italy it was a really solid display of game management, execution to score five tries. On Saturday the defence and attack was probably the best of the championship but we lost by 20-odd points and did not take the opportunities that came our way.
“We feel progress has been made since Wales but Wales was probably the worst game of the last 12 months.”
Scotland made a whirlwind start in Dublin but had nothing to show on the scoreboard from the early skirmishes. When Irish hooker Dan Sheehan burrowed over in the 17th minute the hosts moved into a position of ascendancy they would maintain for the remainder of the game.
They went further ahead with a try from Cian Healy, and although Pierre Schoeman brought Scotland back into the game when he found a way through from close range, further scores in the second half from Josh van der Flier and Conor Murray moved Ireland out of sight.
“Obviously this competition comes around every year and we find ourselves in that second tier this year like we did last year,” said Townsend. “Close to third but not getting to third and disappointed we didn’t get more wins, in particular the Wales game.
“We underperformed in that game and we knew that that was a big opportunity for us to back up the win against England.
“We look at where we’ve made progress. We feel as coaches that we improved over the last three games.
“France was better than Wales, Italy we had some good moments and Ireland was arguably our best performance. That’s how we see it. We know our best performance of the championship was still a defeat and that we need to be better.
“You learn from game to game. You learn why things didn’t work against Wales or France and put that experience into the following week.
“We knew that we were playing for third or fourth place and those weren’t our aspirations at the beginning of the tournament. So it was a chance to show the supporters that we are as a team and I felt we did that with the effort we put in, with how we tackled and attacked.
“There are things we would like to take back; chances we didn’t take and penalties that we gave Ireland. There are a lot of things to improve.
“But the basis of our game is still putting teams under pressure and putting us in positions to win. If you look back this season we beat Australia, we beat Japan and we beat England, lost to Wales by three points and lost to two other very good teams.
“France must be in the top two in the world right now and Ireland are top three or four. That’s the reality. These are teams we want to go up against and win so we’re disappointed. But we know we’re not too far away if we get things right and improve things, both as a coaching and a playing group.”
Next on the agenda for Scotland is a summer tour to South America which will include three Test matches against Argentina and a possible development fixture with Chile.
Townsend will look to blood some younger talent and it may be that some senior players remain at home. The likes of Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Chris Harris have all gone straight from last summer’s Lions tour of South Africa into a busy club season.
The coach knows he has to strike a balance and have a squad strong enough for a tough series.
“I view this tour as quite similar to when we went to North and South America in 2018, which was a year and a bit out from a World Cup,” he said. “This is a much tougher tour than that one when we had Canada, American and Argentina.
“This one is three Tests against Argentina so we’re going to have to be strong to take on the Pumas but we will look at giving players opportunities who deserve it. That might be players that haven’t been involved with us before.
“That fourth game [v Chile] will give us a really good opportunity to work with different players, players who are maybe just outside that Test environment just now.”
Townsend also hopes Cam Redpath can join the tour after a neck injury scuppered the centre’s chance to play a meaningful part in the Six Nations.
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