The Scottish Mail on Sunday

HELPING HAND

Townsend expects squad to rally round skipper after another costly mistake

- By Calum Crowe

GREGOR TOWNSEND last night leapt to the defence of Stuart Hogg after the Scotland captain’s second Six Nations blunder in successive weeks.

With the scoreline locked at 3-3 and just 12 minutes remaining against England, Hogg clumsily carried the ball back over his own try-line.

He had tried to let it roll over the line and dot down for a 22-metre drop-out, but ended up fumbling it under pressure from

Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph. The error had ruinous consequenc­es.

From the resulting five-metre scrum, England scored the game’s decisive try amid some truly horrendous conditions.

Storm Ciara battered Murrayfiel­d with biblical rain and winds in excess of 60mph, as England won the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 2017.

But Townsend was adamant that the Scotland players will rally around star full-back Hogg and offer support to their new skipper after his latest high-profile mistake.

‘I don’t know how many errors there were in the game, I would

say around 40 or 50,’ said the Scotland head coach. ‘There were a lot of kicks that went straight out, line-outs, and a lot of handling errors.

‘Stuart was an inch or two away from making a brilliant decision and he had some excellent play. It’s very tough to play in those conditions and there will be a lot of mistakes, from both sides.

‘What Stuart tried to do was let the ball go over the try-line. It just didn’t bounce up. If the ball had bounced forward, we’d have had a 22 (drop-out), not a five-metre scrum.

‘As a decision, it’s very hard to judge in those conditions. I thought some of Stuart’s play was outstandin­g again today.

‘How he manufactur­ed space in

that weather, beat a few players and then put a kick back into their 22, gave us excellent momentum in the second half.

‘It’s very tough to play in those conditions, to deal with with high balls, bobbling balls when your fingers are frozen. There’s going to be mistakes in those conditions and there were a lot of them today from both sides.’

With his third Six Nations Championsh­ip as head coach beginning with two successive defeats, Townsend is under no illusions about how important the game with Italy has become.

The trip to Rome in a fortnight has now come sharply into focus as the Scots seek to inject some momentum back into the camp on the back of a disappoint­ing World Cup.

Townsend, though, was adamant that the Scots were able to take some positives from an England side who were World Cup finalists back in the autumn.

‘As a group, I spoke to the players about reflecting on the last two games,’ he continued. ‘They worked hard to get within a chance of winning.

‘We have played two very good teams in the last two weeks and this one was against the World Cup finalists.

‘The game could have gone either way but, when we go to our next game, we need to find a way of winning. When we go to Rome, we need to do all we can.

‘The players were outstandin­g to get the score back to 3-3 and the way they adapted to those conditions in the second half.

‘I thought the way we played in the second half was excellent, given the conditions. To show what we did for the first 15 minutes to force errors and penalties was good.

‘It was just that five-minute period that England got into our 22 that we have to remedy.’

Townsend was unimpresse­d by a perceived injustice in the second half from French referee Pascal Gauzere.

With England prop Kyle Sinckler alleged to have ripped the ball illegally from Jonny Gray, Townsend believes his team should have been awarded a penalty.

He added: ‘It was on the big screen — and we have three officials watching that.

‘That was a turning point for us because it is very difficult playing in those conditions when you’re three points behind.’

 ??  ?? PAIN: Hogg was again at fault as Scotland lost but Townsend backs his skipper
PAIN: Hogg was again at fault as Scotland lost but Townsend backs his skipper
 ??  ?? POSITIVES: Townsend felt some of Hogg’s play was outstandin­g, despite his vital error
POSITIVES: Townsend felt some of Hogg’s play was outstandin­g, despite his vital error

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