Six Nations analysis: Optimism drains after Scotland's heaviest home defeat since 2015
The sobering nature of Saturday’s defeat by France left Gregor Townsend with much to ponder as he contemplated the end of Scotland’s Six Nations title bid with two rounds of fixtures still to play.
The 36-17 loss at BT Murrayfield was Scotland’s heaviest at home in the championship since 2015 when Ireland spanked Vern Cotter’s side 40-10 to confer upon the hosts the wooden spoon.
Saturday was the first time Townsend’s side had conceded six tries in a game during his 52-match reign. It was also the Scots’ biggest margin of defeat in the Six Nations since 2018, his first campaign at the helm.
The optimism that preceded the start of the tournament, and which was enhanced by the win over England on the opening weekend, has drained away to be replaced by the all too familiar feeling of Scotland being on the outside looking in as the main prizes are contested.
The scale of the defeat was partly due to France’s brilliant finishing but space opened up for the visitors as the Scots chased the game.
“It is very disappointing,” reflected Townsend. “We have shown over the last couple of years we have won games or lost them by close margins. It is disappointing to lose it by more.
“To be honest, whether we lost by a point or by 20 points, it does not change things too much. Our goal is to win the game and to win the game we must take our opportunities when you get them and when you do it becomes a different game.”
Townsend had labelled this squad the strongest he had worked with since 1999 but hopes of emulating Scotland’s last championship-winning side have disappeared with the back-to-back losses to Wales and France. Fabien Galthie’s side are now in the box seat to clinch their first title in 12 years while the Scots will travel to Rome and Dublin seeking to salvage something from a campaign that began with such promise.
“It is over to other teams to challenge for that title now,” said Townsend. “It is disappointing that we won’t be involved in any title race as the tournament goes into the last fortnight.”
The improvements made by Townsend since the 2019 Rugby World Cup have been clear to see, with notable victories achieved over England (twice), France (twice), Wales and Australia. The problem for Scotland is the strength of their rivals is such that the bar is being raised every season.
Grant Gilchrist, the Scotland lock, spoke about “hard truths” in the aftermath, indicative of the frustration building since Cardiff.
“We know the level of competition in the Six Nations is ridiculously high - if you’re not at your very best you won’t win Test matches at this level,” said the Edinburgh player.
“But we know when we’re at our very best we can beat teams. We can beat everyone. We believe in ourselves. But as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, if we’re not quite at it, if we don’t put in an 80-minute performance, then we won’t get the win.
“I think we gave them too much transition ball and we gave up too many turnovers. Against a team like that, if you give them transition attack, they’re going to kill you.
“There were certainly opportunities we created. In the first half we fought our way back into it and we should have gone in at half-time at least only two points behind. But I think over the piece we gave France too much of what they wanted.”