Townsend backs Scotland to improve

As one of the most talented players Scotland has ever produced, Gregor Townsend was never afraid of taking a gamble. Now he's bringing that creativity to coaching Scotland's backs

The man sitting in row Q of the main stand at Murrayfield on Six Nations afternoons this season might have looked almost as lean and lithe as some of the players on the field.

But you shouldn't be fooled, because Gregor Townsend isn't. He's happy to say his playing days are over and he's enjoying coaching Scotland's backs.



Scotland were a major disappointment in the Six Nations, having only a solitary win over Italy to show for their efforts, a record which prompted the resignation of head coach Frank Hadden at the beginning of April.



But there were signs that the Scottish back-line which, in past years, has been about as potent as a politician in a financial crisis, was finally starting to look capable of significant deeds in Test rugby, with the likes of Max and Thom Evans adding a much needed injection of pace and attacking endeavour.



Townsend was always a player with a considerable quantity of cerebral matter and the effect of his coaching is already confirming that prognosis. Talented, inventive and delightfully unconventional as a player, he adhered to the creed that to try things on the field contained risk and, quite often, risk-taking can be expensive. Yet when it works, it is glorious. The sleight of hand and delicious sway of the hips followed by release of the ball out of a tackle by which he freed Gavin Hastings for that famous try by the posts at Parc des Princes, Paris, in 1995 enabling Scotland to win in the French capital for the first time in years, was Townsend at his best. He never panicked under pressure, retained his composure and always kept on thinking. He is trying to instil the same values into the Scottish backs.



Intriguingly, he scorns the general belief that space is becoming an endangered commodity in the modern game. "If you can see the space and execute it, the space is definitely still there," he says. "Look at the best teams in the world, like New Zealand. People said they didn't have their strongest side for the tour of the northern hemisphere last autumn but they easily beat teams in this part of the world.



"One of the reasons for that was they found space. If you are good enough, you can find it and if you play at pace and your fundamental basic skills are good, you will always have the opposition on the back foot."



Townsend straddled the amateur/professional dividing line. He played amateur rugby until 23, loved and revered its comradeship and sense of fun. But when professionalism came, he adapted smoothly to its rigours and demands.



He played professionally for another 12 years, and had the intellectual stimulus to try the game in different countries (England, France, South Africa); always a sign of the thinking player.



In all, he had 11 years of international rugby and was a prominent contributor to the success of the 1997 Lions in South Africa.



What does he make of the Scottish back line? "The players are improving but they have to learn things like holding onto the ball at the right times, waiting for support," he says. "I am enjoying working with them, seeing them develop. I am learning new things and being involved in the Six Nations again not as a player but coach was a great thrill."



And the game now? As he says, it is always evolving. Sure, it has changed enormously even in the six years since he stopped playing. And yet he sees some things returning, like the careful employment of little kicks, the chip through and grubber kick to break the stranglehold of the modern defences.



"These things were there 10 years ago; there were certain ways of playing," he says. "The kicking game is changing all the time and it is all based on trying to find space behind the opposition defence by whatever means.



"Defences are very strong, very organised and players are bigger now. Finding space is more and more difficult but it's as well to remember that you're not playing 25 players. It's still just the 15."



If ever he'd allowed his mind to wander and wonder about playing in the modern game, this articulate Scot needs only to listen to his body. "I realised it wouldn't last five minutes on an international field these days," is his frank assessment of the physicality of modern day rugby.



"Already, I am starting to feel the effects of 11 years of international rugby. I've had a stiff neck and I get sore knees and sometimes it's my back. The only reason is, I played rugby for so long. Anyone who did will have these bits of pain throughout their body: there is a toll to pay. In one year, I played 40 games but thankfully they play less now. Yet the memories are worth it."



So he sits contentedly in the stand at Murrayfield these days and relaxes. Curious word that, for a coach. But he does.



"You watch and study the play hoping to see something you can pick up on at half time with the players," he says. "I don't mind that, I enjoy the view. I am relaxed enough because I enjoy the game. I certainly don't feel I want to be out there anymore."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up