Coaches, proteges and ex-teammates give verdict on strengths and weaknesses of new Scotland coach Townsend, writes Iain Morrison
Yesterday Gregor Townsend oversaw his last ever match as coach of Glasgow Warriors, the team he has led for five years. Tomorrow he announces his first ever Scotland squad for the summer tour which takes in Singapore, Sydney and Fiji.
He will have had little time to prepare but we know he has been working away in the background for months now and we can safely assume he will bring the same diligence and rigour to the Scotland post that he employed to good effect at Glasgow whom he led to the Pro12 title two seasons back.
Things have been a little more difficult this season, with the Warriors struggling against the two big rejuvenated Irish teams, Leinster and Munster, both of whom beat Glasgow with weakened teams in recent weeks.
He has some immediate problems awaiting him. Does Townsend keep Greig Laidlaw as skipper in the face of the fast-improving Ali Price? Where does he find a second stand-off and, if that man is Peter Horne, then shouldn’t he have gone to Edinburgh instead of Duncan Weir? Should he take props WP Nel and Ally Dickinson on tour or let them recuperate in peace? Which young lock gets left behind?
We will know the answer to at least some of these questions at tomorrow’s squad announcement but the big question everyone is asking is what sort of Scotland coach will Townsend be?
He will be bold, we can assume that much, and he won’t be chopping his starting XV with quite the same regularity that he did at Glasgow if only because he can’t.
We talked to those who have worked with Townsend over the years, as coaches, colleagues and players, to hear about the man… good and bad but never indifferent.
Townsend’s first captain at Glasgow
Detail! Gregor is a very intelligent guy who gets the very best out of everyone and much of that is a result of detail. He looks at everything and he individualises it, not just with the players but with the whole (coaching) team around him.
He isn’t a chest thumper but you’d run through a brick wall for Gregor because you can see how much it means to him.
Who went from apprentice to world-class stand-off under Townsend
He’s been good for me. All that experience, he’s been through it all before. It’s always good to have another ten’s influence, about what to do, where and when, his experience and knowledge of the game, he has passed it on to me.
It works both sides, we bounce ideas off each other. It’s good having a coach you can do that with. Decision-making wise, I had to come in at 19 years old into the academy and I had to change a little bit, not too much, but the way you plan a game, things like that, were obviously at a different level.
At Scotland I’ll have a shorter period of time with him but I won’t forget it immediately just because he leaves (Glasgow). I’ll still have him for three months of the year.
Scotland backs coach when Townsend first broke through
We didn’t really see eye to eye. I thought that Gregor was irresponsible with the ball after the forwards had generally worked so hard to win it. That meant playing as an individual and the team suffered a result.
At one point in the 1993 tour to the Pacific Islands I actually told Carl Hogg, who was leading the forwards, not to give the ball to the backs because they couldn’t be trusted with it.
That is not to say that Gregor isn’t an intelligent guy and a hugely talented rugby player but he would have learned a lot from that experience.
Invited Townsend to assist with Scotland in 2009
What marks Gregor out is his ability under pressure. He played with Scotland and the Lions and he was able to brush off any mistakes as a player and he does the same as a coach. He doesn’t allow the pressure to build. That is a great quality to have and it makes him an outstanding coach.
Former team-mate and long time friend of Townsend
One thing that Gregor always had was the ability and the courage to play the game that he wanted to, which was well ahead of his time.
Coached Townsend at Galashiels Academy and later at the Borders
It’s the hardest thing, I think, to look at a child of 13, 14 or 15 and say that they were always going to be this or that. What you can say about Gregor is that he was always a very talented rugby player and a very intelligent individual both on and off the field.
He has always been an open-minded character and he is well travelled, his career taking in Sydney, (Northampton) Saints, France and the South African Sharks all of which would add to his experience. He did well with Glasgow and I am sure that he will do the same with Scotland.
I would love to see him coaching Finn Russell, it must be hilarious, because the Glasgow stand-off has a lot of Townsend’s character in him.