Speaking on Monday at the Guinness Six Nations launch in London, Scotland men’s rugby head coach Gregor Townsend says he won’t approach the “toughest tournament in the world” any differently in a Rugby World Cup year.
Coaches tend to enjoy such a year because over the piece they get more time to work with the players, which is not always the case in test rugby environments. Attention to World Rugby’s showcase will shift almost immediately in March/April without a summer tour to prep for, but for his overall approach, the start of the year becomes the same as any other: focus on that first game against England and build from there.
What that means in real terms is Scotland will need to summon “close to their best” performances across all five matches including finishing their opportunities and cutting out any late drop-offs that were highlighted in Townsend’s press conference as regular Scottish failings.
Scotland’s head coach also alluded to the part that “a bit of luck” might play in getting those all-important wins. Scotland know that luck, however, is something that cannot be relied on.
Speaking about the most recent Scotland that we saw in the Autumn compared to the side that struggled in the 2022 tournament, Townsend said “We feel we’ve improved a lot since then. Some of the things we did [in the last championship] were nowhere near the level we set ourselves.”
Captain Jamie Ritchie echoed this belief – which if we’re honest, has been a near constant since the foundation of the site in 2007, although it’s perhaps more realistic now than at any other point over those last fifteen years – that “individually the parts of our game are all there and the boys are confident we’re getting close to doing that.”
“That”, in this case, being able to put it all into practice in consecutive games without something else going missing. If Townsend wants to continue as Scotland coach – which he may not, of course – one or two wins and yet more close losses will not help his case.
Standard press soundbites aside, there were some player updates and further information on a couple of prospects out of the Emerald Isle who might or have already switch allegiances to Scotland.
Townsend said he spoke to Ben Healy initially on behalf of Glasgow in their attempts to sign the fly-half, but said that it was the pro-sides – he eventually signed for Edinburgh – had done the bulk of the work in attracting that player over to Scotland; giving the sense he was not the driving force behind that one.
Ulster scrum-half John Cooney is not available till later on in the tournament, when the 3 years since his last Ireland cap will expire, but Townsend did not rule out using him if there was a need for another 9 in the squad. He also said that in that instance it was Cooney who reached out to Townsend once the rule changes were announced.
Zander Fagerson will need to show he’s at the level for test match rugby in camp – for Townsend it’s not just about fitness for a key player who will be short of game time.
Duhan van der Merwe‘s absence over recent European weekends was due getting married in South Africa and he’s expected to be in full training at camp, and is not an injury concern. Hamish Watson will be given the next Edinburgh game to show he’s up to speed.
Scotland’s camp will be in Spain, which enables outdoor training in warm weather. The team will then fly straight to London for the tournament opener on February 4th.
When asked, he joked that the Spain training camp was not a way to “escape the hype” (as it might be for, say, England) – Toony said he actually wished there was a little more hype.
While that could be down to the massive inconsistency that makes Scotland fans a little jaded at our prospects, maybe it is time to get the Scottish Hype Train rolling again?
Graham Love over to you…