Analysis: Five issues Scotland coach Gregor Townsend needs to tackle before the World Cup

Gregor Townsend  must try to stop airing his grievances with certain referees
Gregor Townsend must try to stop airing his grievances with certain referees
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We analyse the problems facing Scotland

1 Find some consistency at the highest level

This Scotland side has proved that they can play a bit. They did so for the first 70 minutes against Italy, the second 40 against Wales and England but they never managed to give the best of themselves over the full 80 minutes of a match.

It was galling yesterday especially as everyone left Twickenham wondering what could have happened if Scotland had just got out of the blocks a bit quicker than they managed as England ran in four first-half tries.

Eddie Jones pointed out rightly that they could have been further than 31 points ahead and had they done so Scotland might have been too far out of touch to even attempt that thrilling six-try fightback.

2 Get key players fit and then keep them that way

This is easier said than done especially with four World Cup warm-up matches (two versus France and two against Georgia). Four! It looks like finances are trumping player welfare, just as they did in the autumn.

Nick Grigg doesn’t look like an international class centre although Sam Johnson has shown up well and proved his class yesterday.

Life will be a lot easier when the likes of John Barclay, Sam Skinner, Blade Thomson, Duncan Taylor, Huw Jones, Stuart Hogg, Matt Scott and Mark Bennett are all fit and gifted centre Alex Dunbar is able to string two games together without his body breaking.

Richie Gray will make a huge contribution to the World Cup but only if the Toulouse lock is able to shake off the effects of surgery and return to his barnstorming best.

Many of Scotland’s problems arose from reserve players being pressed into action too soon and injured players being pressed into action when they are underdone.

3 Mindset

You have to think that if Gregor Townsend never came across “the fastest rugby in the world” quote again it would be too soon. It has become something of an albatross around his neck, especially after last season’s disaster in Cardiff.

Since then Townsend has rowed back a bit. Against France last season the Scots went back to basics and bludgeoned their way to a win. Against France this season the Scots ran almost everything regardless.

The mindset is still to play fast and loose with all the errors and inaccuracies that comes with it. The best teams in the world are winning by repeated execution of the basics under pressure.

Marvel at the patience of a Grand Slam Welsh side who sit tight, run through the phases, wait for the opposition to make a mistake and then pounce. The Scots don’t have that patience, either with or without the ball, and are almost always guilty of forcing the issue.

These Scots are a little naive, they lack that hard-nosed, Test match mindset and they don’t look prepared for the sky high stakes that come with every Rugby World Cup.

4 Be careful what you say

Ahead of this championship Townsend was asked whether he viewed the Six Nations as a warm up for the World Cup. Here is his reply: “[We are] totally focused on the Six Nations.”

So why then did the coach state that, following defeat in Paris, selection would be made with one eye on Japan, so giving the impression to his players and everyone else listening that he had abandoned a disappointing campaign with two huge matches still to come?

Meanwhile, Greig Laidlaw, pictured inset, had already alienated many neutrals with his comments after the Ireland match, at referee Romain Poite: “He doesn’t seem to like us, Romain. He refereed us against South Africa as well and we don’t seem to see eye to eye. So while we’re not going to blame him, we’ve got to look at ourselves and again credit to Ireland.”

Laidlaw was lucky that World Rugby turned a deaf ear. Contrast that outburst with the scrum-half’s reticence after Craig Joubert’s World Cup quarter-final howler.

The head coach sets the tone in these matters and Townsend’s tone can sometimes be a whining one. The coach had a dig at Poite and, a few weeks later, another swing at another French referee, Pascal Gauzere.

This is important because the game’s traditions, one of which is respect for the match officials, need to be cherished. But also because every time Townsend moans about referees he gives his players an out.

They think, if only subconsciously, that the match officials are to blame for defeat rather than their performance and that much was never, remotely true.

5 Townsend must settle on his best side

The coach was strangely unsure of what constituted his best team and the man who always took the risky option as a player has been a little blinkered as a coach.

This was especially true when picking the tactical, kicking stand-off Peter Horne in Paris and then running the ball from all corners of the compass.

Townsend was genuinely unlucky with injuries but why pick Johnson for the first three games, jettison him altogether from the 23 for Wales only to start him at Twickenham?

The coach also stuck by Jonny Gray, Tommy Seymour and possibly even Stuart McInally longer than he could justify when they were playing well within themselves and alternatives were available.

The coach’s biggest headache is at half-back where Finn Russell is in a field of one, Adam Hastings missed out on vital game time in Paris and Greig Laidlaw won’t, or can’t, play 
at the tempo that Townsend’s 
wants.