An email conversation with Gregor Townsend: 'Fingers crossed that everyone is fit for Paris on Sunday'

The former Scotland captain on willing on Scots after their Italian job; Seeing Paterson kick on to greatness; Tapping out the story of the 'Toony Flip'
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When the Italy full-back David Bortolussi sent a late penalty attempt tantalisingly close to the posts on Saturday night, with Scotland clinging on to an 18-16 lead, did you see the World Cup quarter-final place flash before your eyes? Not really, because I didn't realise it would be the last chance of the game. My reaction was different when Alessandro Troncon then chipped over the defence and it looked like David might get another chance, closer to the posts. I know David well, actually. I played with him at Montpellier. I thought he played very well, but he missed three penalties. Chris Paterson kicked all six of his chances. That won the game.

You are coach of the Earth XV in the inaugural Eight Planets' Championship. Who do you select as your kicker: Dan Carter, Jonny Wilkinson or Chris Paterson? Definitely Chris. Year on year, I would have always said Neil Jenkins above anyone else, even Jonny at his best. But now Chris is in the Neil Jenkins class. He's so calm and so consistent. He's not missed one yet at the World Cup. The only possible question mark with him would be outside the 40-metre range. Neil used to imagine he was kicking into a box in his local park, and he always looked so calm and in control. Chris is the same, even in real pressure situations. He's a good role model for youngsters, because five years ago he was struggling with his kicking, like all of the kickers in the Scotland squad. He's worked damned hard to get as good as he is.

Frank Hadden, the Scotland coach, said Saturday's win "completely vindicated" the decision to field a shadow XV against the All Blacks at Murrayfield eight days ago. Do you agree? It's hard to say. Obviously, Scotland have made the quarter-finals, but games like Saturday's are never going to be won on whether players are fresh or not; it's who takes their chances. People say: "Was it a brave decision or was it a bad one?" But it's irrelevant now. We're in the quarter-finals and, fingers crossed, everyone is fit for next Sunday night in Paris.

Which player has impressed you the most in terms of performance at the World Cup, both good and bad? The good: I tend to focus on what the stand-offs are doing and many of them, like Butch James, Berrick Barnes and Dan Carter, are performing very well. But the stand-off who has impressed me the most and has been at the heart of his side's wonderful performances is Tonga's Pierre Hola. He has been fantastically positive in the No 10 jersey and varies his game well. He has a knack for putting players in space with wide passes. The bad: I love watching Freddie Michalak play, but he has struggled so far. Although, in his defence, it must be said that he missed most of last season due to injury. I was at France v Ireland and he was beginning to time his passes, but he had a desperate night with the boot. However, he did show great vision for Vincent Clerc's first try, when he executed a superb cross-kick into space. I hope this inspires him to go out and show his undoubted ability in the knockout stages.

You have chosen to write your autobiography, Talk of the Toony, without a ghostwriter. Which Scottish author is a bigger influence on you: Ian Rankin, Muriel Spark, Robert Louis Stevenson or the guy who writes the Broons books and Oor Wullie? I enjoy Scottish authors like Ian Rankin and Iain Banks, but Douglas Coupland has been the biggest influence, as I quote him in the book. He came up with a term called "recurving" in his book Generation X and I use it as one of my chapter titles. It means leaving one job to take another that pays less but places one back on the learning curve. This was what I felt when I left Northampton to play club rugby in France.

"Big Ger" Cafferty is the villain in Ian Rankin's Rebus novels; is Matt Williams – Frank Hadden's predecessor as Scotland coach – the bête noire of your book? Probably, as he ended my international career at the age of 30. I wanted to continue, but he was against it. But, although I was desperately disappointed, in hindsight I might have to thank him one day. Scotland suffered record defeats during his tenure and I got the opportunity to fulfil a dream and experience Super 12 rugby when I went out to play for the Natal Sharks.

Now that you've hung up your boots, what are you going to be doing professionally? After the World Cup I will start a full-time job with the Scottish Institute of Sport Foundation, which will see me involved in projects to help Scottish sport.

People always ask you about the "Toony Flip" at the Parc des Princes in 1995, the celebrated reverse pass that led to Gavin Hastings' late match-winning try. When did you last watch it on video? I don't think I've ever watched it on video. It's one of those games where I have a vivid memory of a number of incidents before, during and after the match. As I scored a try in the first half – my first for Scotland – it was a special day and, if I think hard enough, I can almost hear the noise and feel the way I moved that sunny afternoon in Paris.

Have your kids asked you to show them how to do it? Funny you should ask that. On the back of my book there is a photo of the pass and my son, Christian, who's five, saw the picture and asked me why I was passing the ball funny like that. Even though I explained a few times that it was the only way I could pass the ball as my other arm was held and Gavin had come up on my inside, he still looked confused.

Did you ever discover the identities of the Scotland team-mates who doctored the "Gregor Townsend wears Reebok" advert on a bus shelter near Murrayfield at the 1999 World Cup to read "Gregor Townsend wears suspenders"? Scott Murray and Martin Leslie were definitely involved, but Tom Smith – the quiet one – would have been an instigator. Those guys together always meant trouble.

Was their accompanying artwork in the Renoir/Picasso or Viz/Broons Book class? Martin Leslie is a man of hidden talents. There was great attention to detail. You could tell they had been bored; they had obviously worked on it for a few hours.

'Talk of the Toony: The Autobiography', by Gregor Townsend, is published today by HarperSport, priced £18.99.


* Name Gregor Peter John Townsend MBE

* Born Edinburgh, 26 April 1973

* Caps 82 (50 at fly-half, 26 at centre, six as a replacement).

* Debut Versus England, Twickenham 1993, as a 19-year-old replacement for Craig Chalmers.

* Last cap v Australia, Sydney, 2003 World Cup quarter-final

* Points 164 (17 tries)

* Clubs Gala, Warringah, Northampton, Brive, Castres, Borders, Natal, Montpellier

* Notable achievements In 1999 was the second player to score a try in all four Five Nations matches; played in first two Tests of British and Irish Lions' 2-1 series win in South Africa, 1997.