WITH two rounds of the Championship to go, it was perhaps inevitable that Gregor Townsend wanted to emphasise the positive aspects of Scotland’s play in their 36-17 defeat by France yesterday.
But, while the head coach may be a glass-half-full sort of person by character as well as by inclination, he also accepted that his team had hardly helped their own cause by committing too many errors against a quality side who now have the Grand Slam firmly in their sights.
For the third game running in this year’s Six Nations, Scotland failed to do themselves justice, showing at best no more than sporadic glimpses of the kind of creativity we have seen from them over the past couple of years. But at least against England they came out on top despite being below their best, while against Wales they lost by just three points. Against France, by contrast, they were some way off the pace, and even allowing for the fact that they were playing against a better team than they had met thus far, the outcome was seriously dispiriting.
“They won more moments than us in the game and we didn’t put them under enough pressure for the 80 minutes,” Townsend said. “We put ourselves under pressure at times and obviously France put us under pressure with their turnover ball in particular.
“There were a lot of positives. I thought our scrum was very strong against arguably one of the best scrummaging teams in the world.
“Our maul defence was good too – we just need to trust that a little bit more. We did give away a couple of penalties in that area, but the effort the players put in was huge throughout the 80 minutes.”
A couple of the ‘moments’ mentioned by Townsend occurred either side of half-time, as France scored on the brink of the break and then a couple of minutes after the restart. Given Scotland had failed to turn two promising opportunities into points just before the first of those French scores, that whole passage of play straddling the interval was a real blow to the home team’s hopes of a fightback.
“It was hard for the players, in particular the try just after half-time,” Townsend added. “It was disappointing not to have gone ahead when we had a couple of opportunities before half-time, so it was even more disappointing and frustrating that we conceded from a line-out on the half-way line and conceded seven points. The belief was there; a learning from the first half was definitely there.
“We discussed [that] a lot at half-time, and that French try came from an attack around the 22 when we had the ball so you can class it as a breakaway try. That must have been a blow for the players on the field.
“It’s a similar [French] team to the one we’ve come up against in the last few years. We know their strengths – they have a big pack and we knew where they’d put us under pressure, but we feel we handled that well. I felt we were getting the nudge in some of our scrums. We got a few penalties ourselves in the 22 and we mauled well against them.
“But it’s their ability to turn good ball into a try and good ball can come from scrums – they were dangerous off their scrum attacks out wide. It also comes from opposition turnovers. That’s the best two sources of possession that you can get. Counter-attack ball from kicks is also good.
“They showed what a good team they are, their backline is strong, their scrum-half is obviously a very good player who gives them good ball, but the thing which stands out is their front five, [and] their ability to carry and keep the ball. They were very clinical close to the try-line and not just going down into a ruck or going into touch but offloading to someone else.”
Scotland’s penultimate game is in Rome a week on Saturday, and Townsend will take time to assess how best to get his team back on to a winning track. “Italy will be a different game, and we’ll have a different team, I would imagine, depending on who’s available,” he concluded. “We’ll have a different focus on how we get our best game out.”