Gregor Townsend’s imprint is all over this Scotland side
NOT SINCE they won the ﬁnal Five Nations in 1999 have we seen a Scotland team like the current one put together by Gregor Townsend. The Scots are brimming with conﬁdence and an attacking intent that’s clearly instigated by their adventurous head coach, who as ﬂy-half was part of that title-winning team of 19 years ago. After transforming Glasgow into Pro12 champions, his legacy is starting to rub off on the Test stage – with a recent rout of Australia and near victory over New Zealand.
The ﬁnal play against the All Blacks that so nearly saw full-back Stuart Hogg slice through for the winning score typiﬁ es the Scots’ attacking ﬂair and never-say-die attitude. But for a superb Beauden Barrett cover tackle, a historic ﬁrst win over New Zealand beckoned.
Scotland do leak tries but they sense that they can score more than they concede; they averaged 5.3 tries per game in the autumn compared to their opening Six Nations opponents Wales, who averaged only two tries a game.
Their speed of ball is helped by a rampaging forward back ﬁve, but the unsung heroes are the ball-carrying centres who give the extra incision and go-forward that allows the likes of Hogg, Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland to function. In Huw Jones, Alex Dunbar and Peter Horne, Scotland have backs that complement their style and when you have the running threat of Finn Russell, who plays ﬂ at to the opposition defensive line and brings others into play whilst prising out opportunities for himself too, then you have a potent mix.
Let’s take a look at that last-gasp Scotland attack against the All Blacks…
Scotland are developing ball-playing and carrying forwards. Three forward runners look like they are about to thrust forward. The middle man, hooker Stuart McInally, passes the ball out of the back of these three players to the hidden Finn Russell.
Russell hits the ball at pace, posing a real threat to the defensive line. The previous play has committed All Black defenders. Russell commits and holds even more as he runs and squares up close to the New Zealand line.
There are forwards in the wider channels – some act as ball-carriers, some as decoys. Here, lock Grant Gilchrist runs a hard ‘unders’ line – targeting the inside shoulder – to try to hold even more All Black defenders.
Huw Jones and Byron McGuigan are the rapier threats in the wide channels. Russell’s miss pass gets the ball into Jones’s hands early. He lies deep but hits the pass at pace, making it difficult for the outside defenders.
Stuart Hogg has not committed to the front line. The hard-drifting defenders will see him late and his entry to the line on the inside of Jones, on roughly a 45-degree angle, means he can attack weak inside-shoulder tackles and vulnerable defenders who have pushed across too hard. The angle and his pace as he hits Jones’s inside pass also take him away from TJ Perenara and other covering defenders… except for World Player of the Year Beauden Barrett!