INTERNATIONAL rugby is hard.
It takes years of individual training to develop the physique and skill level required to face the best players in the world, months of preparation to create a team unit capable of withstanding extreme pressure, days of analysis to making sure no one is caught off guard by the opponent’s game plan, and then 80 minutes of focus and hard work to make sure all that preparation work hasn’t been wasted.
As if all this weren’t demanding enough, there is the issue of managing external expectations, which is a minefield in a world where the boldest rather than the brightest opinions – instinctive reactions rather than reasoned debate – increasingly dominate.
Saturday’s performance against Italy remained well below the level Scotland have fixed themselves. The middle 40 minutes were decent enough, but the first and last 20 minutes of this contest at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico were mediocre. The 1-point gap between the two full-time teams is the closest Italy have come to a positive result in a Six Nations match since losing 15-26 to Wales in February 2019.
So not a good day for the Scots rugby, but neither was it the disaster presented by a vocal section of so-called supporters on social media. Scotland were never in danger of losing this game, scoring five good tries and generating some much-needed momentum – after back-to-back defeats to Wales and France – ahead of the Six Nations denouement at the weekend next weekend against Ireland in Dublin.
If you can’t enjoy a bonus points win by Scotland on the road in the Six Nations, it’s debatable whether you’ve really understood how difficult international rugby is. Results like this were as rare as chicken teeth. Are Gregor Townsend and his team victims of their own successes, castigated for not always being on top as they did against England at the start of this Six Nations campaign?
“You’ll have a grumpy group of coaches tonight rather than a group that should be happy with the result,” Townsend said, speaking immediately after the game and making no attempt to hide his own disappointment at what happened. had passed.
“Look at the players, they know themselves that we haven’t performed as well as we should have in this last quarter. Credit goes to the boys for the job they did before against a very good Italian team. The reality, however, is that if we play like this next week, we have no chance of winning.
“We will have to improve to be able to really challenge Ireland, stay in the fight and create chances to get ahead of them.”
Scotland did win in Dublin in 2010, but it was at Croke Par because Lansdowne Road (aka Aviva Stadium) was being redeveloped. was quickly followed by the resignation of home head coach Brian Ashton midway through the campaign, to be replaced by Warren Gatland).
Recent success at Twickenham and the Stade de France after many years of failure will give Townsend’s boys some confidence ahead of this weekend’s clash – but they will also be acutely aware they face a big step forward. ahead compared to what they faced in Rome this weekend. .
“It’s one of the biggest challenges in rugby, playing one of the best away teams in a place where we haven’t done very well for a while,” admitted the coach. “We need to be better next week, but at least we’re going there with confidence with a win.
“We are very honest with each other and know we have to be better to win in Dublin.”
“I think it will be a much more open game than maybe games against Ireland in the past,” he added. “They play a lot of rugby, which could work in our favor or put our defense under pressure.
“We know Ireland are very good in the contact area, very good from set pieces, and they’ve built up this attacking game that is really threatening.
“But we have to be able to match that as well as create problems for their attack by the way we defend, and bring our own game to put them under pressure.”
One of the big bonuses for Townsend was that Finn Russell, man of the match Ali Price and captain Stuart Hogg – his three most important playmakers – produced improved performances on Saturday after struggling for form earlier in the game. this Six Nations championship.
“We’ve been through four games now and we’ve learned things about ourselves as a leadership group,” Townsend said. “I felt Stuart and the other leaders this week really stepped up their honesty about what was required. They were some of our best players in the game.
“We know that when it comes to leadership, the best way to influence your teammates is to play well and they did that today.”