Scots made errors and bad decisions but lack of ability wasn't to blame, insists Gregor Townsend

THE Scotland squad is, in a perverse kind of way, taking heart this week from the belief that a clutch of player mistakes in the crucial first period on Saturday were to blame for their heavy loss to New Zealand, and that attitude problems, lack of ability or a mental block with the black jerseys were not at the root of their downfall.

That was the message to come out of the camp yesterday when Gregor Townsend, the attack coach, faced the media in the wake of the team announcement being delayed by an extra day to allow injured players more time to recover and win selection in what will be a new line-up.

Townsend is aware of the pressure on him to uncover a more clinical attack and acknowledged that he and the other coaches have had to look hard at themselves and dissect how they had prepared the team for Saturday's opening EMC Autumn Test match at Murrayfield.

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He agreed with the statement on Monday from defence coach Graham Steadman that only a handful of players were rated above average but added that he did not feel that the players' attitude was a problem, while acknowledging that the heads dropped when the All Blacks ran up a big early lead.

"We did not get it right defensively or attacking wise," he said. "We turned over ball and gave New Zealand easy chances. We have always stated that to play against any side, we need the majority of the team playing well but to play the top two or three in the world we need everybody playing well and that did not happen at the weekend.

"But I would put down the errors mainly to decisions that were made and execution. We never got much of a platform in attack because of poor delivery at lineout time; scrums we never got much of the ball because there were a couple of free kicks and we got a lot of penalties but there was no point in kicking three points.

"The attitude going into the game was great. We had a fantastic meeting the night before where Mike (Blair] spoke emotionally about what it meant to play for Scotland, so I don't think it was a lack of desire or attitude.

"There were not errors because of a lack of ability but you don't get chances that you might get at Magners League or Heineken Cup level where, from a turnover, you can still defend. Against New Zealand you turn ball over and it is a try.

"We need much, much harder work off the ball. At times we worked hard to get back for counter attacks or to support the ball-carrier, but not nearly enough. New Zealand had three or four players either side of the ball-carriers, and that is what you need. So, concentration, running in the wrong lines, yes, but I don't think you can say it is attitude. They were just not doing the job in front of them.

"And there was a feeling the heads went down. In teams that I have been involved with, if you don't start well against the All Blacks then it is always very hard to bring that back.Maybe it was because of that realisation after those two quick tries that the heads went down, but it was not like that at the beginning of the game. We took the game to them and the players were up for it. It was more the nature of two quick tries and the game was over."

Townsend was eager to shift the talk on to what is coming this weekend, insisting the players have switched the focus to eradicating the errors and regaining pride at Murrayfield with the kind of revival that lit up their Six Nations match against Wales in February

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"It was very disappointing at the weekend and there are not many positives to take out of that," he added, "but we still have the belief we had from winning in Ireland and Argentina, in the way we're playing, and the fact that the laws have opened up the game more … and know that, if you do well with the ball and defend well, you have a chance against any team, especially with the players we have, who we know will perform better this weekend.

"It is a very tough challenge that the South Africans will bring. They have brought back a traditional, power-based game, but have lots of pace and are very fit. But we know we will get a reaction from our players.

"You can liken it to what happened at the beginning of the Six Nations, where we lost against France, played a bit of rugby but didn't take our chances, were slack in a couple of areas and were beaten, not by much but comfortably, and the following week went and played really well in Wales. That is what we are looking for from our players this week."