Gregor Townsend: Scotland coach 'needs to remind everyone he's up to it'

Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend's Scotland will begin the Six Nations with games against Ireland and England

In the wake of Scotland's early elimination from the World Cup, Gregor Townsend spoke at length in the bowels of the Yokohama Stadium. His brain was scrambled, his emotions raw, his passion there for all to see.

With Greig Laidlaw believed to be on the verge of international retirement and a number of others in their 30s and unlikely to get near another World Cup, Townsend called on players to step up and start driving the team as Laidlaw did.

"It's a long reflection for us," said Townsend. "You look to the future. It could be that certain guys have played in their last World Cup, so it's encouraging when you see players like Scott Cummings coming in. It's really encouraging to see Jamie Ritchie, who was outstanding.

"We have some players coming through who should make us stronger. We have a group of players at the age of 25 to 27. from Finn Russell to Jonny Gray, who have at least one more World Cup in them. Jonny has 55 caps, Finn's on 49. They have to drive the team forward.

"Greig [Laidlaw] is not going to be at the next World Cup. Players like him have left a massive legacy. He drives high standards off the field and really cares about what it means to play for Scotland. I'm sure the other ones do, and I've seen it, but it will have to become more their responsibility. The Six Nations is such a big tournament and it's around the corner."

'Townsend will get time and deserves it'

Townsend has made it clear that he has the stomach for the fight ahead despite the criticism that's coming his way. He's cognisant of it but doesn't obsess about it. He knows that what happened in Japan, and at the last Six Nations, is going to draw heat. He's no greenhorn. He knows what's what.

"I feel very lucky and privileged to be in this role," he said. "If someone else was to do it then the least I could say is that I've enjoyed the time here. I don't like losing. You always feel like you've represented your country and not done a good enough job. That'll start to hit over the next few days.

"This is the best job in the world. There's highs and lows, but I know I'll be a better coach for the experience and the team will be better, but the proof will be in the next games."

Townsend is in no danger, that has to be said. He will get time, and he deserves time, but he knows better than anybody that things have to improve. Having won three games in his first Six Nations championship, he won only one in his second and now he has this failure at the World Cup on his record, too.

He's made his squad deeper, and at times in games they can have moments of world-class rugby, but the results aren't coming; the mistakes against the big dogs are not reducing; the consistency, if anything, is further away now than before. He's a man who needs to remind everyone that he's up to this. The next chance he'll get will be in early February when Scotland have a daunting beginning to the Six Nations away to Ireland and then home to England.

'No-one wanted to be in this situation'

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'It will eat away at me for a long, long time'

Reflecting on Sunday's loss to Japan in a classic of our times, Townsend spoke about his regrets. "To see the team come back and get within seven points with 22 minutes to go, I thought, 'What a brilliant bunch of players we have'. Their mindset when the crowd was loud and Japan had their tails up - to repel them a couple of times and get those two tries was great.

"But ultimately I'm most disappointed with the last 15-20 minutes. We gave ourselves a tough position to come back from but I'm more disappointed with how we didn't win. I felt the momentum had swung and we should have kicked on, but that was when we were least accurate in attack. That's me [attack coach]. That's my area. The other part is defence. Defensively, we weren't good in that second quarter. Our defence is not up there with the best teams in the world. We've shown improvements, but you can't switch off.

"I have a few weeks off to reflect on everything - my own performance, from what I say to the team to how I prepare it, select it, tactics. They put the effort in over four months. Some of them will be thinking that this will be their last World Cup, some might think this will be their last time playing for Scotland. You can only feel for them. No-one wanted to be here in this situation. We have weeks now to analyse why we didn't play to our best level and why we didn't get to the knockout stages."

On Sunday, they came up against a team that is capable of delivering on the mantra you so often hear coming from the Scotland camp - Japan really did produce the fastest brand of rugby in the world. That publicly stated aspiration has come back to embarrass Scotland somewhat. "That was something that was [supposed to be] internal, but one of our players [John Barclay] had a BBC column and it came out. I don't regret [saying] it. It was a theme for that tour [the summer trek to Singapore, Sydney and Suva] and into November."

Barclay may have been the first but he wasn't the last Scottish player to talk about playing the fastest rugby. It's a bit of a millstone for Townsend now.

'Short turnaround was a handicap'

His regrets are as clear as his focus on what lies ahead. As he leaves Japan, he has some final thoughts on the big picture. "I don't want this to be the narrative - and it's not why we lost," he said of the four-day turnaround between playing Russia and facing Japan.

"It was always going to be very tough when that draw was made. Yes, most of the players who started against Russia didn't start against Japan, but it changes your training plan quite severely when you've only got one training session going into the biggest game in your pool. Now, we've always known this would be the case but, of course it's a handicap.

"Almost every team got a four/five day turnaround but one [Japan, who had gaps of eight days, seven days and eight days between their fixtures] in this tournament. They can make it last longer and have no [short] turnarounds or everyone should have one."

Those are questions for another day. Scotland won't have one of those in Japan. They're out of time at this World Cup. The top eight sides in the world have qualified. Scotland no longer belong in that company.

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