Gregor Townsend wants to continue as Scotland coach despite Rugby World Cup failure

Gregor Townsend insists he still has the stomach to continue as Scotland head coach despite the national team’s deflating pool-stage exit from the Rugby World Cup after Sunday’s 28-21 loss to inspired hosts Japan in Yokohama.

By Duncan Smith
Monday, 14th October 2019, 11:00 pm
Gregor Townsend believes he is still the man to lead Scotland forward despite the failure to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup in Japan. Picture: Getty Images
Gregor Townsend believes he is still the man to lead Scotland forward despite the failure to reach the knockout stages of the World Cup in Japan. Picture: Getty Images

Speaking to the media in Japan in the aftermath of an extraordinary match and occasion as the Brave Blossoms roared to a historic quarter-final following an at times spellbinding display of supersonic speed rugby, Townsend said he wanted to stay in the job.

“Yes, of course,” he affirmed. “I feel very lucky and privileged to be in this role. If someone else was to do it the least I could say is that I’ve enjoyed the time here.

“You might not get the impression, but I don’t like losing. You always feel you’ve represented your country and not done a good enough job.

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“That’ll start to hit over the next few days. But walking out [to face Japan], in that atmosphere, and with these great players, it’s the best job in the world. There’s highs and lows, but I know I’ll be a better coach for the experience, the team will be better, but the proof will be in the next games.”

Scotland went into the game knowing they had to win by more than seven points but, after a positive start as Finn Russell opened the scoring with an early try, they were swept up in a whirlwind of speed that, surely, few teams could have coped with on a night of intense emotion and passion at the end of a weekend which had seen the host nation hit by a devastating super typhoon.

Scotland responded with heart but after slumping to a 28-7 deficit it was simply too much and the campaign was over.

“I feel that coaches don’t have the ownership of how you should feel [in this situation] – that’s the players,” said Townsend.

“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. It isn’t great, but they are a mature group emotionally and they are a tight group.”

Townsend was visibly despondent by the outcome of so much effort but the moment he winced most visibly was the moment he was asked about the much-vaunted ‘fastest brand of rugby in the world’ which had been the unofficial mission statement of the Townsend era when he replaced Vern Cotter in 2017.

After a night in which the Japanese played with a speed and intensity that was hard to keep your eyes on at times, it was something that clearly stung.

“That was something that was internal, but one of our payers [John Barclay] had a BBC column and it came out. I don’t regret it. It was a theme for that tour [in which Scotland beat Italy in Singapore, Australia in Sydney and lost in Fiji] and that season into November.

“Playing the fastest rugby in the world applies to your attack. There were times we talked about getting line speed and that was linked with that, but ask any coach what the most important thing in attack is and it’s getting quick ball.

“That’s what we set as standards for our players. But over the last year we have really developed a kick-chase game that puts teams under pressure. That was a big part of our gameplan against Japan and we didn’t get enough possession in the first half to do it.

“And a couple of times when we kicked weren’t contestable enough. We didn’t apply the kicking pressure but we have improved a lot over the last six months.

“The other part is defence. Defensively, we weren’t good in that second quarter. Our defence in the two previous games [against Samoa and Russia] was outstanding. It’s an area of improvement we know is not up there with the best teams in the world. We have shown improvements, but you can’t switch off.”

• Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water