Plenty scope for Scotland to improve, says Gregor Townsend

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It has gone down as one of Scotland’s greatest ever wins, and most celebrated for almost 30 years, but coach Gregor Townsend said yesterday he could spend “hours” talking about what didn’t go right in last Saturday’s glorious Calcutta Cup triumph.

Townsend has made just one enforced change – Blair Kinghorn coming in for the injured Tommy Seymour – from the team that trounced England 25-13 for Saturday’s trip to face leaders Ireland in Dublin, rewarding the players who have got Scotland’s NatWest Six Nations firmly back on track.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has pored over videos of the England game. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has pored over videos of the England game. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU

However, he made it clear that there was plenty of room for improvement and that it will be necessary if the Scots are to post a landmark away win which thrusts them into the mix for the title.

“There are lots of things we could improve on. I would be here for hours if I listed them all,” he said.

“Look, the pleasing thing was the accuracy and intent we played at in the first half. How we defended, we were aggressive there.

“We were obviously very good around the breakdown. It will be much tougher this weekend because of how Ireland are in contact.

“But there were a few things we didn’t get right, things you probably don’t see until you go through the video two or three times. Just looking at where a player could be to take an opportunity that might have presented itself.

“In the second half we did have a couple of opportunities we didn’t take. But the commitment and effort in defence over the last five or ten minutes against England, that’s up there with the best we’ve seen from this team.

“Considering England had a lot of ball and were trying to get the ball, to stay in the game or at least get a losing bonus point, our players were still coming off the line, still competing for the ball, making it tough for England to attack.”

Townsend revealed that Kinghorn, the young Edinburgh full-back, had been told just before the team was announced that he would be starting on the wing at the Aviva Stadium after Seymour failed to recover from the back injury he picked up in the England.

It is an unfamiliar position for the schoolboy stand-off turned No 15 but Townsend has every faith in Kinghorn, while acknowledging he is likely to be targeted early by Ireland’s renowned kicking game.

“We were going to pick the same team that played against England and France and we gave Tommy time to make a full recovery, but we ran out of time,” explained Townsend.

“Blair has trained in the back three last week and this week so he was delighted.

“If you are playing against a team with a strong kicking game you expect, whether at full-back or wing, to have kicks to deal with. We like the balance of our back three with three full-backs there. We expect we will get some kicks to catch.”

Townsend boosted his squad with a host of experienced players at the start of the week but, in the end, has stuck with the winning formula of the past two games, with hooker Fraser Brown the only reinforcement to go in on the bench, with Lee Jones filling the spot vacated by the promoted Kinghorn.

“It is definitely better to have more players available,” said Townsend. “Some of them are short of match fitness so it was good to get them into the training environment. The likes of Alex Dunbar, Byron McGuigan are just coming back from injury. Richie Gray played his first game last week so he will be back paying for Toulouse.

“It is a positive thing. If only the Six Nations lasted another three weeks because some of those players will be at top match fitness by then.

“They [the players in possession] deserve to be rewarded. They have played really well in the last two games. They beat the No 2 team in the world [England] with an excellent performance.

“[Tighthead] Simon Berghan, for example, has really stood up in the last two test matches. It is hard to leave Zander Fagerson out of the 23 but Simon deserves another opportunity.”

If Scotland were to overcome their well-documented struggles to win away from home in the Six Nations against world No 3-ranked Ireland, who haven’t lost at home in the tournament for over five years, it would be the first time the Scots have won three in a row in the competition since the 1996 Five Nations.

“It depends on who you’re playing in the third,” said Townsend when asked how difficult it is to reel off a trio of victories on the spin.

“Momentum is a great thing. You come into camp and know that these things you’ve worked on have led to a win.

“You build together. You get confidence together. There is a lot of cohesion because the team is largely the same over those two games.”