The Scottish Mail on Sunday
SCOTS GET OFF TO A WINNING START FOR TOWNSEND
Townsend era begins with a bang as Scotland put on the style in five-try rout of Italians
THE Gregor Townsend era kicked off with some of the Scotland head coach’s patented panache. Now he wants more.
Five tries in the victory over Italy in Singapore was a signal of the new man’s intent.
But, with Australia up next in Sydney, Townsend knows his players must step up another level if they are to end a run of three straight — and exceedingly painful — defeats to the Wallabies.
In fact, the last time the Scots enjoyed that winning feeling against the Aussies was on their trip Down Under in 2012.
Since then, two Murrayfield defeats sandwiched that dramatic 2015 World Cup quarter-final loss at Twickenham.
At least yesterday they started this summer tour in some style, although there is most definitely room for improvement, especially in defence.
‘The effort was outstanding against Italy as we knew the conditions were going to be tough and took a lot out of our players,’ said Townsend, who took over from Vern Cotter after the end of Glasgow Warriors’ domestic season.
‘Italy were a tough opponent but we managed to open up their defence with our fast speed of ball that helped us get the tries.
‘I am very pleased we came away with the win but we still have improving to do as we face Australia next up.’
Only 8,000 tickets were sold for the 55,000-capacity Singapore National Stadium in a match that failed to capture the imagination of locals.
Most of the fans were ex-pat Scots and it was only when Scotland got into their stride late in the first half did their singing really begin and the piper got going.
What thrilled the supporters more than anything and got the biggest cheer was the sight of Ross Ford crossing the whitewash — twice.
His first came from a ball back from captain John Barclay from close in with him showing pace and power to get over the line.
His second was far slicker and came from a superb break from Duncan Taylor that saw him offload the ball to Finn Russell who put in a sweet short pass that Ford ran onto to dive over to a huge ovation from the Scotland fans.
There were also other moments to savour with Ali Price and Tim Visser scoring two late first-half tries that Townsend would have been proud to score in his playing days.
The brace came after a poor opening 35 minutes with the only scores coming from a penalty from Russell that was cancelled out by Tommaso Alan.
The tide turned when Price scored his terrific solo try.
He picked the ball up at the breakdown, played a quick pass to Allan Dell, got it back and ran round the Italian defence to score.
Visser’s try soon after showed the understanding the Scotland winger has with Russell who put over a chip kick that he dived over to touch down.
The scoring was complete for Scotland late on when Damien Hoyland squeezed in at the corner near the end of the match.
Five tries in his first game in charge is a good start for Townsend, especially as he had his game plan disrupted just before kick-off.
Openside flanker John Hardie injured his back in the warm-up which forced him into a major re-shuffle.
Ryan Wilson was promoted from the bench to play in the back row with winger Rory Hughes taking his place among the replacements.
Townsend’s plans were further disrupted when Dell had to go off for nearly 10 minutes for treatment to a blood injury that brought Gordon Reid on to the field until he had recovered.
The Price touchdown and the Visser one just before half-time put Scotland in the driving seat but with Russell off for treatment on a head knock, it was Duncan Taylor who converted the second one.
The early stages in the second half became the Ross Ford show with the Scotland hooker going over for his two tries either side of Italian lock Dean Budd being yellow-carded for persistent offences.
Fifteen minutes from time centre Michele Campagnaro, who won the Aviva Premiership title with Exeter Chiefs this season, was allowed to run through the Scotland defence following poor defending.
Italy also lost his replacement Abraham Steyn to a yellow card after he took out Henry Pyrgos off the ball.
Scotland took full advantage of the extra man with Taylor playing in Hoyland to score in the corner. Italy went up the opposite end and scored in the same place with a pass from Carlo Canna finding Angelo Esposito who dived over out wide.
Apart from Ford, there were top performances from Visser and Hoyland with Price a real livewire behind the scrum.
Barclay made sure his side kept their discipline but he will know there will be a tougher test ahead when his side play the Wallabies next Saturday.
For Townsend, his team kept to his tactical plan to play fast, hightempo rugby from the start, but he will be worried at some of the handling errors under pressure.
Overall it was job done and, with old-stager Ford hogging the limelight, it was a Scotland victory build on youth and experience.
‘As a bit of fun earlier in the week I asked John Barclay and Ross Ford to commentate on their tries during their respective Scotland careers,’ continued Townsend afterwards.
‘John had a few options but Ross just had the two — but that changed tonight.
‘Ross has been outstanding since I became Scotland head coach and he works really hard.
‘He is our vice-captain, our most experienced player and got his rewards with those two tries.’ Barclay also praised the role Ford had played in the win and the role he was playing on the tour.
‘He is a hugely influential player and as we have a relatively inexperienced squad on tour he makes a big difference being here,’ said Barclay.
‘It is great to have someone like Ross, after all these caps, still setting great standards for these guys. He never lets those standards drop and it was great to have him score two tries tonight.
‘I was happy with the win but like Gregor said we know we have to do some improving to ensure we have a chance against Australia.
‘We have started the tour well but need to keep the momentum going.’