Gregor Townsend has already experienced innumerable highs and lows in life but yesterday ranked as the very pinnacle of his coaching career as his Scotland team not only beat England but did so by a jaw-dropping three tries to one.
“From a coaching perspective, that’s the biggest win I’ve had,” said Townsend still basking in the warm glow of Calcutta Cup victory. “We came very close to beating the number one team in the world in November and we’ve now taken on the number two team, a team that’s been very consistent, and we’ve won the game. We believed we had to play a certain way to win, and we executed that really well.
“The first half of that game (today) and the first half of the New Zealand game (in November) were similar, in our intent to play the way we believed would be a success and in our accuracy. Our defence was outstanding in both those games. The difference tonight was that we finished off opportunities and took them really well.”
The Scots were clinical in the first half when they played with pace and the precision that hasn’t always been present in this championship. The forwards competed with gritty determination, rock solid in the set scrum and they halted the English juggernaut in its tracks whenever the visitors attempted a driving maul.
But all that would have gone to waste were it not for the twin talents in the backs, Huw Jones who scored two tries, and Finn Russell who conducted the orchestra with his autumn aplomb. In the last match against France the Scot was substituted well before the final whistle, yesterday that fate befell his opposite number George Ford who made way for Ben Te’o. A fortnight is a long time in elite sport.
“Finn was outstanding for us in November,” said Townsend when quizzed about his playmaker, “taking on the best teams in the world in New Zealand and Australia. He was world class. He hasn’t had the best of starts to the Six Nations but his second half against France was very good and today he played like he did in November.
“We ask a lot of our tens as a supporting group, they have to be brilliant all the time and there are going to be errors. The pleasing thing was seeing Finn playing the rugby we know he can play, which is putting passes to people who are in space.
“He tackled very, very well. I thought he was outstanding in defence. Making good decisions on kicking and when to run, he had a real balance to his game and he created a lot of space for us the way he was playing,the way he was engaging with the forwards and I think he can kick on from here.”
If Russell was orchestrating Scotland’s attack, John Barclay was doing the same with the defence which was equally important as the Scotland skipper acknowledged.
‘It’s pretty pleasing,” said Barclay with studied understatement. “We knew we would get stick after the Wales game, that’s the nature of the beast, but we felt we hadn’t become a bad defensive team overnight.”
And what about Russell’s performance?
“I said he would get the man of the match award!” Barclay replied with the rueful smile of the next in line.