Gregor Townsend’s first international coaching role was as an attack specialist but as he looked back on his first Six Nations Championship match in charge of the team, he pointed the finger firmly towards defensive failings yesterday.

Saturday’s thrashing in Cardiff had come after Scotland had come off Scottish possession when Ali Price was intercepted and Wales claimed their bonus point after his half-back partner Finn Russell again turned attack into defence with another moment of carelessness as he threw the ball into the general direction of colleagues.

In between times Scotland failed to score a point, doing so only in the 79th minute, yet when asked whether there had been anger among the players following the defeat, Townsend was very specific in his confirmation of why, pointing towards, in particular, failures in the defensive spacing.

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“As a player of course you’re angry, [wondering] why didn’t we do that properly, why didn’t we communicate better? The overriding emotion was that we didn’t perform anywhere near as well as we should have,” he said.

It was a naïve-looking performance and having made some strange decisions in terms of team selection and preparation, Townsend acknowledged that this first championship challenge had provided food for thought.

“That was a painful learning game for a lot of people and there were times where we could have done better to come together as a group and focus on the next job, to maybe make sure that if someone made a mistake they’re back in the group and being positive,” he said. 

“Whether it’s resilience, confidence, you’ve got to be sure you’re nailed on in those areas, you believe in what you’re doing and you’re switched on mentally because it will be tougher away from home. You’ve got to be right in all aspects and be tough to beat and we weren’t at the weekend. We pride ourselves on the defence and that was the most disappointing aspect for me, that we certainly made it much easier than we’ve done before.

“As a coaching group, it’s our first Six Nations. We had an away game in Sydney where the players showed really good resilience, but going into the Ireland game, it’s something we have to show a much better picture of ourselves. We have to make sure that, even if we lose that game, it’s not because of our focus or resilience.”

Before that next opportunity to prove they can improve on an abysmal road record in the Six Nations, there is the matter of reasserting themselves on home turf when they meet France on Sunday and the team selected looks far better balanced than that which began the championship following changes to every department.

Those to the front five represent tweaks with Townsend acknowledging that there is little to choose in overall terms between the players selected, Simon Berghan and Grant Gilchrist and those dropped to the bench, Jon Welsh and Ben Toolis. However, they also demonstrate that the big selection calls made for Cardiff, those which seemed designed to surprise when choosing Cornell du Preez at No.8 and Chris Harris in the centre, very clearly failed to pay off.

With 15 round pegs in 15 round holes, they face opponents whose psyche Townsend understands well having spent five years of his playing career in France, but he believes that whereas their domestic game requires “a win-at-all-costs mentality,” their national team is under pressure to play “in a certain way.” 

In Scotland’s case such pressure principally comes from within the camp rather than any external forces since, after close to two decades without any significant silverware, supporters just want a team that can win consistently.

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While the Scots have professed a determination to stick to the playing style that has brought tour and autumn Test wins, perhaps the biggest lesson from Cardiff was that as important as maintaining self-belief may be, avoiding boosting the opposition’s is also vital.

“What we’re certainly aware of is, if France get any momentum and confidence, they’re very, very dangerous,” said Townsend.“That’s when they execute their back-line plays, their three-on-twos, better than any team in the world. How they get that is through set-piece, going forward, suddenly a play working for them, an early score, their chests are out, their shoulders are back and they can play outstanding rugby.
If we can make sure that the confidence doesn’t come for them early in the game, if we keep defending very well and knocking their big men down, that helps, because they have some very big men. 

“If they have to keep getting off the floor and we’re stressing them with whatever rugby we play, making sure they’re working harder than they’ve ever had to work before, that’s when we can have an advantage.”