Positive rugby will be Scots’ focus under Gregor Townsend

Players whom Gregor Townsend has developed as head coach of Glasgow Warriors will become important members of his Scotland squad. Picture: SNS
Players whom Gregor Townsend has developed as head coach of Glasgow Warriors will become important members of his Scotland squad. Picture: SNS
0
Have your say

It is a well acknowledged truth that, across a range of sports, the best players don’t always make the best coaches and those blessed with natural flair and mercurial talent often find it harder than most.

Gregor Townsend certainly came into that category as a player and was arguably Scotland’s finest of the modern era, which can be tricky in coaching when it is often necessary to get the best out of players not blessed with the same effortless, natural gifts.

Townsend has not suffered that problem. Ambition, intelligence and confidence would be three words to describe his time in a variety of jerseys from the maroon of hometown Gala to the dark blue of Scotland, via the red of the British & Irish Lions and a plethora of clubs from Northampton to Natal.

He has very much taken these watchwords into a coaching career that is widely considered one of the most promising in the northern hemisphere.

It has already yielded tangible success with that historic breakthrough Guinness Pro12 title in May 2015, but it is more the manner of the success that has been achieved which has made the SRU so keen to ensure Townsend will be installed in the top job next year and lead the national team towards and through the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

The culture he has fostered at Scotstoun where an unyielding team spirit is put front and centre in pursuit of a positive brand of rugby with a hard, winning edge, no doubt made the SRU even more determined to keep Townsend in Scotland.

The collective is all at Glasgow, something which will flow on from the Vern Cotter era, and the emphasis of a Townsend-led Scotland will always veer towards attractive rugby. He was one of the great individual players of his era and, in the likes of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, he has helped mould similar characters to himself.

As well as Russell and Hogg, Townsend, who has been Glasgow coach since 2012, has a great rapport with many of the young players who will hopefully be the core of the 2019 World Cup squad – the likes of Alex Dunbar, Mark Bennett and Jonny Gray.

Still relatively young for a coach, Townsend would be the last person to say he is the finished article and is always on the lookout for new methods and innovations. He has been on fact-finding missions to the likes of Barcelona FC and is insatiable in his pursuit of excellence.

That focus will remain trained on Glasgow Warriors for another year and Townsend said: “I will be doing all I can to help the club continue to progress this year.”

There may be question marks over the wisdom of keeping Cotter in place for what some could view as a “lame duck” season. Time will tell on that, but it is the way of the modern professional sporting market that contractual commitments and succession plans take time or can end up messy and expensive.

Townsend too, probably feels he has unfinished business at Glasgow Warriors this season. Following that famous final win over Munster in Belfast in May of last year, it was always going to be a tall order to retain the title as the Warriors squad – victims of their own success – lost 21 players to the Rugby World Cup and suffered more disruption during the Six Nations.

Ironically, one of Townsend’s finest coaching feats could be seen as the one achieved with the players he is less likely to have at his disposal in his new role. In the second half of last season he coaxed a remarkable series of results from his fringe players to the brink of an incredible defence, only falling short to an inspired Connacht in the play-offs.

The European Champions Cup also remains a nagging objective as he seeks to get Glasgow into the knockout stages for the first time. It is one of the most brutally difficult competitions in world rugby and the Warriors have again been drawn in a tough pool with Racing 92, Leicester Tigers and Munster.

The tougher the challenge, the more Townsend appears to relish it, however, which bodes well for his next 
assignment.

As for Cotter, there is no doubt there has been improvement under his tenure. There have been sticky situations, such as last year’s Six Nations whitewash and a two straight losses at the start of this year’s tournament, but few could deny that the no-nonsense Kiwi has brought a toughness and positivity to the national team.

Last year’s World Cup campaign ended in heartache with that last-gasp quarter-final defeat by Australia but it exceeded most people’s expectations and led into a Six Nations campaign which recovered from a poor start to deliver fine wins over Italy and France.

Cotter said: “Since taking up this role I believe we have moved forward as a group by working to execute the simple things well. Developing skillsets and mindsets has been important to help perform on the international stage.

“The focus has been to respect tradition but also perform in the present, be adaptive and innovative. I have been really pleased with the progress that has been made in all areas.

“The players, and my management group, have enjoyed working hard to give the fans and Scottish Rugby results and performances to be proud of.”

Townsend is sure to carry many of the elements Cotter refers to into his own period in the job. That said, while he will look to transplant the “Whatever It Takes” collective motto of Glasgow Warriors to the national team, one thing Townsend has always brought during playing and coaching career alike is his own individual stamp.