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Townsend Sees Way Ahead for Six Nations

Gregor Townsend and Jamie Ritchie
2023 Guinness Six Nations Championship Launch: Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend and captain Jamie Ritchie | ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

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…

49 Responses

    1. Well that’ll make it easier for Toonie. Doubt whether Hodgson will be called upon against England so it’s perm 2 from 3 to start with the other on the bench: R Gray, Gilchrist & Skinner.
      Probably gives Watson a chance at starting given his tackle rate. None of the above have the tackle numbers close to Jonny (and don’t give me any rubbish about “dominant” tackles – put the man down, first and foremost).

      1. Yes, could not agree more. Dominant tackle is such an overrated vanity metric, especially in short carries by forwards. 
        Take, for example, the last play of the game against England in 2021, where Watson steals the ball to win the game. Gray drops Lawes to give Watson the jackal chance, and he’s only got 2 things on his mind – get him to ground fast, and get him away from his support. Technically, because Lawes fell forwards, this would be counted as a weak passive tackle. But it won us the game. Harris did a similar thing in the last play against England in last year’s win. (Man, these wins against England really do blur together don’t they?)
        Don’t get me wrong, I love a big hit, and it can absolutely change the momentum of a game. But to me the far more important stat is – did your tackle lead to a turnover chance? 

      2. Big hits are great until the opposing player lowers his head at the last nano second. Then you’ve just cost your team the game when the ref pulls out a red. Owen Farrell loves a big hit and look how many tackles he’s got badly wrong over the years.

  1. Wonder what impact appointment of Peter Horne and Brad Mooar will be?

    Attack seemed to regress under AB Zondagh but maybe pick up against Argentina when he was on his way out. Peter Horne getting plaudits at Glasgow for improving their attack, especially around contact area. Brad Mooar has a decent CV but ABs we’re pretty blunt with him as assistant coach.

    Only way is up from benchmark of 2022 championship.

    1. TBF we should have won our first 6N two years ago. If Zander hadn’t been red carded against Wales and we’d held on for the win. All ifs and buts but 2021 was our best chance in years.

  2. Scotland remember may have had many disappointing results over the last five years but due to general Scottish psyche we forget that we do not now do the occasional landmark result…they are far more frequent in general.

    Townsend has won 12 of 25 six nations matches. Can any coach rival that percentage in Scottish recent history? Say 23 years?

    We know how to win tight matches but we still know how to lose them….so no doubt we’ve been at a drought rather than peak this last 12 months but signs are we’re coming out of that drought.

    I think it’s all on the first game…things could get nasty if we lose but a win and we’re off…

    …remember Twickenham 2015 there is no way this team would lose going into the last 5 and I suspect now this team would never lose the lead in 2019 with 5 mins to go.

    That’s not to say we don’t have a bottle in us all blacks 2022 but we’ve never dominated them for 55 mins like that before.

    We have less madness and more coolness these days…more experience of winning and getting over the line. Its building but who knows if we can make it count this year.

    1. We have less madness and more coolness these days…more experience of winning and getting over the line. Its building but who knows if we can make it count this year.

      Tell that to the forwards when within 5m of the opposition try line

      1. A fair point that is infuriating and something that we haven’t sorted. Going wide at the right times us important and we don’t do that well. Maybe Pete Horne will remedy that…we’ll see

  3. Interesting to see Price released back to Glasgow; maybe not the starting option vs England? If so, then I suspect White to start and Price on the bench with Hornito losing out again, especially as Russell will be the place kicker with Kinghorn – rightly or not – considered back up

    1. Dempsey also released back to Glasgow. How many games has Dempsey played this season for Glasgow? Seems alot to me. Thought internationals can only play so many games in a row

      1. Urgh, it’s things like this that show Toonie still can’t do it. Finally find a real 8, on form and with carrying ability. So released back to club. Ok, everyone has their favourites, maybe maybe he doesn’t make the XV. But he’d be my first name down in the forwards, followed by R Gray for lineouts and Schoeman. Think the article on stats backed that up too. You don’t release the guy back to his club even if you’re squeezing him out the XV. Mad as ever, the first warning sign this tournament after a pretty decide squad selection, optimism just dipped a bit.

    2. I wonder if Price is being given one more game to show his form has improved sufficiently. Hornito’s chances of featuring would surely have increased with brother Pete now involved with Scotland’s attack and pushing his case. I guess that’s why he’s had more opportunities with Glasgow compared with previous years.

      1. With Price released im wondering if the chances of Horne and Healy being in the 23 increased. Also Crosbie in the 23 instead of Dempsey?

        Of course much will depend on the bench split used and If/ how Kinghorn is used.

  4. I’d have expected both Dempsey and Crosbie in the 23. It might suggest that Townsend is seriously considering Watson in there ahead of Dempsey.He is starting Tomorrow for Edinburgh but has been out over three months so its a huge ask.

    1. If Watson somehow performed back to his best from the lions after the lay-off/rest, would you leave him out the 23?

  5. Interesting to see Murray McCallum starting for Edinburgh tomorrow. I spotted him amongst the spectators on the telly in last week’s European game. Has he been re-signed after the Worcester Warriors debacle or is he on loan from his French club, given front row injuries at Embra/Scotland?

  6. Unusually, unlike most seasons I have zero hope this year. Normally it’s the hope that kills you as a Scotland fan it i can’t see us winning in London or Paris and feel Ireland will be too strong at home.

    Which leaves Wales who looked poor, but Gatland has always had our number and they seem to be our bogie team, and Italy, who are looking better and will likely be desperate for a win in the final match.

    So I’m thinking it’s two wins at best but could easily be a white wash.

    Hopefully I’m just being miserable and overly pessimistic and the bounce of the ball/dodgy ref calls will go out way for a change and we’ll come out on top!

    1. Really? I’m expecting us to win against England not just hoping. We have the same established team which has beaten England more or less every year for the past 5.

      And they have a new coach, they will have a lot of renewed passion and physicality but their systems will be pretty basic and Russell should have a field day.

      Just hope Zander is fit.

      I think we should beat Wales at home with them having an old squad but who knows, it’s more or less 50/50 game at home.

      We will crush Italy.

      Expect to lose to Ireland Narrowly and France convincingly.

      Success = 3rd place.

      1. I think that’s a very fair assessment from Neil…there is evidence to back that all up but doesn’t mean it can’t go down the whitewash route…

        We do not have the experience of winning atleast four wins in this championship ever…until we do we’re not going to be in it in the last round. We have won 3 multiple times recently and that is crucial in moving in the right direction….

        …huge improvement is winning the first two…rarely if ever been done by Scotland. We’re now beginning to win our first match more regularly when we had only done that once in first 20 years if memory serves.

        I’m away to find out number of wins last 22 years

  7. I see he was yellow cared minutes after coming on-at least less minutes to get injured.
    Looks like Harris and White are playing this weekend (Finn as well against La Rochelle tonight).
    Hogg (again) and Maitland aren’t playing.Worrying that Hogg ‘s been out for about six weeks and DVDM about four yet still quoted as being ready to start next Saturday. No wonder Ollie Smith and Steyn weren’t amongst those released for Glasgow’s match tonight.

      1. He was injured in the 2nd leg of the 1872 Cup just before New Year and didn’t play for Edinburgh since then and listed as injured.Yes he got married in SA last weekend but apparently that date had been agreed way back whilst still contracted with Worcester.A pure coincidence. Indeed Mike Blair commented last week that some sunshine might aid his recovery.

  8. Fagerson and Dempsey are essentially the only players to have started 8 for Glasgow. Maybe just a case of agreeing to keep one and send the other back?
    Likely not, but possible.

    For Price, I think it’s a last chance to show some form. If he plays even reasonably well I’d expect him starting at Twickenham. Personally not sure he should even be in squad at the moment. He’s great when on form but head is clearly not right and would be better in the less pressured environment of his club. He’s played basically every game since the WC so we need to establish more depth at 9 anyway.

    Similarly with Watson. Crosbie and Dempsey have been in good form so happy with them for them to get a run of internationals. Let Mish get back to his best before parachuting him in.

  9. It will be the same this year as every year…errors at critical moments will cost us unless we somehow find a way to reverse lifelong habits of players and coach. 2 wins will be ok, 3 good, 4 outstanding. Same story every year for a decade now…

    1. Beating Italy and Wales should be the minimum target. Wales will be tougher with Gatland back but we are at home and should be beating them. The next most winnable game is England which could go either way although they will start as favourites being at home and probably having a new head coach bounce.

      Good performances and respectable scorelines against Ireland and France would be acceptable. I think three wins is the best we can hope for unless Ireland or France get a player sent off early on and/or have a bad day at the office.

  10. Final predictions for Scotland squad?

    What i expect Toony to go with

    Hogg – Kinghorn – Harris – Tuipolotu – VDM – Russell – Price – Fagerson – Watson – Ritchie – R Gray – Skinner – Fagerson – Turner – Schoeman

    Maitland – Redpath – White – Dempsey – Gilchrist – Nel – Brown – Sutherland

    1. Looks close to me though I think he’ll start Gilchrist ahead of Skinner and the latter may even miss the bench if Jonny Gray is fully fit.

      Maybe Kinghorn and Maitland the other way around? Difficult to know Townend’s thinking on Kinghorn.

    2. Anyone who has seen Kinghorn play over the last 3 months wouldn’t have him anywhere near the 23. (same comment for Price)
      Healy must be on the bench.
      Harris IMO simply doesn’t merit a place in the 23 (Redpath Tuipulotu Jones)
      Crosbie needs to be involved

      1. I agree with your point about Kinghorn, he’s just too error-prone. Sadly though his flexibility to cover 10, 11, 14 and 15 means that I think he’ll take a bench slot.
        Price will start with Ben White on the bench. I like Horne but Tooney won’t risk him at Twickenham. He does not thrive under pressure and lacks experience for really big games.
        Harris has been off form and I hope that you’re right about Redpath, Tuipulotu and Jones (I would have Redpath on the bench with other 2 starting).
        Crosbie has been on sensational form and for me starts ahead of Watson with the latter on the bench.

      2. For me ..providing the coaches see Watson as being back to his level of a few years ago …he either starts at 7 or doesn’t make the 23. Im not a fan of filing the bench with a dedicated 7.
        Would be very harsh on Crosbie not to be selected ahead of Watson on current form imo.

        If Kinghorn gets into the 23 on current form.. I would be at a loss. Terrible form lately.
        Id rather see Jones/Redpath centre cover and Maitland/Ollie Smith wings and FB

      3. I can’t see Toony dropping Kinghorn from the 23, his ego won’t let him. Price should be on the bench with White start but it’ll be the other way round.

        I sound like a broken record but I do worry about our depth in scrum halves with test experience.

  11. DJB,
    I like Kinghorn but he is not to be trusted at 10 and recently he’s been so poor in the back 3 he unquestionably does not deserve a bench spot. Need a reliable kicker on bench
    Healy and Jones/Steyn covers it

    1. John M et al , including Neil :George Horne is a reliable kicker, fearless tackler and could cover a range of positions if necessary. If you are going to have a 9 on the bench, Horne is your man, he is versatile. So the big question is who is the starting 9. Could Toony be brave enough to drop Price ? One of our most capped Lions, lot of experience now, I doubt it. This is why we retain these guys through times of mediocrity, there must be a big game in there.

      On that subject what about Hogg ! No recent game time, but there is no way he will be on the bench , starts or not in the 23 is how I read it. I hope he is fit enough, we don’t need him going off for more hospital time, it is just one game and we have three at home. I guess that is why we pay GT the wonga. Tough decisions, on what is probably , his last game , against his favorite foe.

  12. Experience tells me there’s little point in trying to predict GT’s teams, but I would go with this:
    Schoemann, Turner, Fagerson, Gray x 2, , Ritchie, Crosbie, Fagerson
    Horne, Russell, VDM, Tuipolutu, Harris, Maitland, Hogg
    Sutherland, Ashman, Nel, Skinner, Dempsey, Price, Healy, Jones

    The big decisions are:-
    the lock to partner Richie (I go with Jonny as there will be some big defensive shifts to get through and Skinner is more effective off the bench), #7 (already discussed adequately on this page above), #9 (it’s Geordie time- I think he could do a lot of damage v England and they are dreadful at doing their homework on anyone outside their peripheral knowledge), centres ( would love to go with Redpath/Jones but I think Manu would find too many holes) and #14 (Maitland is still one of our smartest and most complete wingers, he’s the perfect foil to Hogg & Duhan).
    What do we think?

    1. Manu isn’t expected to play according to English papers, most are tipping centres to be Farrell and Marchant with Smith at FH.

      I really hope Toonie picks a midfield to play on the front door. I’d go for Redpath and Tuipulotu with Jones on the bench.

  13. I reckon they’ll play Farrell at 10 with a pragmatic brutal game plan (like Ireland) to suffocate Russell.

  14. “And speaking of stellar defenders, Hamish Watson (98.4%) and Grant Gilchrist (98.2%) had the two highest success rates of any players to make 50+ tackles in 2022.” Thats out of all tier 1 international teams.

    No need for Jonny Gray then.

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