Saturday 24 February 2018

Townsend needs to restore lost credibility

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend. Photo: Getty Images
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend. Photo: Getty Images
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

With 23.53 on the clock in Cardiff last Saturday, Scotland looked like they had caught a break at last. Already they were having issues at the breakdown, but here was a hard-won penalty for a good poach - a chance to bang the ball safely into the Welsh half and attack off the lineout.

With a few Scotland players still on the deck, Finn Russell stepped up quick-time and whacked the ball long. They were 14-0 down, barely out of the first quarter, and already they were chasing the game. Russell missed touch. There and then Wales knew they were sorted.

In Scotland's awful Six Nations history that game was down there with the worst of them. Any team game has a lot of moving parts, but rugby may have the most. Last weekend Scotland's machine broke down every time it started up. And the lack of leadership in restarting it and deciding on the right direction was alarming.

"There are certain things we didn't do which we should do naturally," Gregor Townsend said last week. "Whether it's working round the corner in defence, scanning what the opposition are doing - we've spent a lot of time reinforcing that this week.

"We, as a coaching group, and especially the players, believe that what we showed at the weekend wasn't a true reflection of what we are capable of and what we have done throughout 2017. There's lots of plans in a game. You've got to adapt to what the defence is giving you; you've got to adapt to what's working for you, and you've got to be accurate - whether you play a certain style of rugby or a multitude of styles of rugby, accuracy is the most important thing. We weren't accurate enough on Saturday in attack or defence."

Between returns from suspension/injury and form selections, Townsend has made six changes from the Cardiff calamity. And surely they will be better for it.

Moreover, if the Scots are in trouble then they may be glad it's France stopping by this afternoon.

Nothing illustrates better the state of France's predicament than the return from a nursing home outside Paris of Lionel Beauxis. Well, perhaps not that dramatic, but the big boot of the 32-year-old has not fired a shot in blue in six years.

Jacques Brunel referred last week to Beauxis lacking some consistency in his Test performances - though the coach did well to remember back that far. That would be apposite, given that the halfbacks combo in France is a revolving door. Beauxis' partnership with Maxime Machenaud today will be the 26th different pairing there for France since 2012.

How, or if, they recover from the trauma of the Ireland defeat will decide the outcome this afternoon. Their set-piece and physicality against Ireland were good, but with Beauxis at 10 - he is the other end of the spectrum to the injured Matthieu Jalibert, who started there in Paris - they will be more predictable. It seems set for the Scots to restore some credibility.

"I really believe in the group of players," Townsend says. "We under-performed - it happens every now and again. You don't want it to happen - you think hard about why it happened - and you go to a lot of measures to make sure it doesn't happen again. But this is an excellent group of players who have shown that over the last year,

"Our focus is on France. We have two huge games coming up at BT Murrayfield to show what we are capable of. And in the context of the Championship, we will see after this weekend where we are."

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, H Jones, P Horne, S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw; G Reid, S McInally, S Berghan, G Gilchrist, J Gray, J Barclay, R Wilson, H Watson. Replacements: S Lawson, J Bhatti, J Welsh, B Toolis, D Denton, A Price, C Harris, B Kinghorn.

France: G Palis; T Thomas, R Lamerat, G Doumayrou, V Vakatawa; L Beauxis, M Machenaud; J Poirot, G Guirado (capt), R Slimani, A Iturria, S Vahaamahina, W Lauret, M Tauleigne, Y Camara. Replacements: A Pelissie, E Ben Arous, C Gomes Sa, P Gabrillagues, L Picamoles, B Serin, A Belleau, B Fall

Referee: J Lacey (Ireland)

Scotland v France,

TV3, BBC One 3.0

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