Scott Hastings: Gregor Townsend’s approach reminds me of Geech

Head coach Ian McGeechan gets his message across ahead of Scotland's 27-22 victory over Wales in the Six Nations in 2002
Head coach Ian McGeechan gets his message across ahead of Scotland's 27-22 victory over Wales in the Six Nations in 2002
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The way that current Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend empowers his players to take control of matters out on the pitch is reminiscent of how Ian McGeechan used to do things, according to Scott Hastings.

And Hastings believes that his former international team-mate, who extended his contract in the main role until 2021 on Tuesday, is creating a generation of players who are “decision-makers” not “robots” as a result.

Hastings, pictured, knows that Townsend’s ‘high-risk’ way of playing does not always come off – examples including the losses to Fiji, Wales and USA in his first 14 games in charge are testament to that – but is adamant that the 45-year-old has the rugby brain to adapt his tactics as and when necessary.

With four Test matches to come in November and then nine more before the squad is chosen for the World Cup in Japan late in 2019 there is a big 13 months ahead for Townsend and his coaching team.

By the time they take on 
Ireland in their Pool A World Cup opener in Yokohama on 22 September next year Townsend will be 27 matches and 27 months into his reign.

Hastings – who started the England loss in 1993 when Townsend came off the bench to make his debut at that level – thinks the current head coach has what it takes to move the team continually forward.

Both worked under McGeechan, who had two spells in charge of Scotland as well as regular Lions involvement, and Hastings sees some of the 71-year-old’s traits in Townsend. “Gregor has certainly had the midas touch since he took over last year and you can see a general improvement in Scottish rugby,” said the 53-year-old, who won 65 caps in all
as well as representing the Lions.

“When Ian McGeechan was in charge of Scotland, it was all about player empowerment and that seems to have come through with Gregor now. He is a fantastic man manager who communicates well with the players.

“He wants people to think about the game, he does not want to create robots, he wants to create decision-makers and the players are given real ownership by him to go out there and take the game to the opposition and dictate.

“Every now and again there has been a wee slip-up like Fiji last year and Wales and the USA earlier in 2018 and these are markers that show there is still a lot of work to be 
done.

“They are going to come up against physical teams in the lead up to the World Cup and Gregor’s players have to be ready to answer these questions and take on the challenges that come their way.

“With the likes of John Barclay currently injured, Gregor has been looking for the younger crop of players coming through to become leaders in the squad.

“We have seen that in parts and now, going forward, he will want to see them stamp their authority on games and play with a calmness and control for 80 minutes.”

People often talk in sport about the tricky second season for a coach and Townsend himself knows that he cannot live on wins such as the two over Australia or the Calcutta Cup victory over England in his first year at the helm forever.

As a result, he will be looking for some solid performances results during the extended Autumn Test series of four matches when November comes around.

“The attitude of the players and the expansive game plan being employed is great to see, but coming into a second season people have to understand that the high-risk strategy that we are playing will have been analysed by other teams and coaches around the world,” Hastings warned.

“The challenge for Gregor now is to be fresh, innovative and progressive and, while the players can play with risk, he will have to look at other styles of play too.

“He has always been a deep thinker about the game, though, and I know he will have a few things up his sleeve as Scotland head into a busy time leading into next year’s World Cup.

“As I say there are challenges for him, but I think he will be in a positive frame of mind going forward.”