GREGOR TOWNSEND has backed Adam Hastings to bounce back from a turbulent 80 minutes in Rome on Saturday which featured the stand-off kicking inaccurately from both hand and tee, whilst also struggling to generate any sort of momentum with ball in hand.

The match started badly for the 23-year-old when he fluffed the easiest of penalty opportunities from directly in front of the posts on nine minutes, and it didn’t really pick up from there until the 79th minute when he opportunistically broke from the base of a ruck following an excellent Grant Gilchrist turnover to run in his team’s third try, which finally took the game away from a limited Italian side.

In fairness to Hastings, the breakdowns were a mess meaning there was a lack of quick ball to work with, but at this level you are looking for your stand-off to be able to adapt to the situation they have been presented with.

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“Today will be a good learning day for him because he will see he has to improve as both part of the team and individually,” said Townsend.

“But he’s got through that experience. The last game [against England played in the clutches of Storm Ciara] was a very good learning experience, too, in terms of the conditions and how he has to handle that as a 10.

“So, he’s learning all the time, and what pleased me today is that he was able to turn things around in the second half, and I thought he defended very well with a couple of really good hold-up tackles on some of their big men, and even a jackal turnover.

“He worked very hard, and like the other Scottish players he will be feeling good about winning, but also know there are improvements to come.”

The big problem Townsend has is that Hastings is virtually undroppable due to the dearth of alternative options in that crucial playmaker role.

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He has inherited the No 10 jersey as a consequence of Finn Russell’s very public walk-out and there doesn’t seem to be any real likelihood of Russell returning to the Scotland fold while Townsend remains as head coach.

Meanwhile, Duncan Weir has been training with the squad these last three weeks, but Townsend has shown no inclination to give the Worcester Warriors man his first cap since March 2017, and Peter Horne has made it clear that he hasn’t given up on a Scotland return but is principally a centre who is now 30-years-old so not really a long-term proposition.

Northampton Saints man Rory Hutchinson has been covering Hastings from the bench these last three matches, but he is also a centre and hasn’t really played stand-off since his Scotland Under-20s days four years ago.

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“Rory has really impressed us in training with how he has stepped in at 10,” insisted Townend. “We gave him an opportunity to come on earlier this week at 13 and I thought he defended very well there. So, we’ll keep on progressing with those two if they are the stand-offs going into our next two games.”

All of which makes the continued absence of Russell seem more ludicrous. It is madness that the relationship between coach and chief playmaker was allowed to deteriorate to the level we have now reached, and to have then engaged in a public spat which has made a reconciliation 10 times more unlikely. This issue will continue to haunt the team for the foreseeable future.

Despite a rare win on the road, with the opposition being held to zero, the mood amongst Scotland fans in the bars and restaurants around the Stadio Olimpico and on social media on Saturday evening was not particularly positive, with a lot of frustration being expressed about the fragmented nature of Scotland’s overall performance. There is a feeling that Townsend has lurched towards a proscriptive style of play which is suffocating the team’s creativity.

Whilst acknowledging that holding the opposition to zero was more satisfying than the team scoring their first three tries of the championship, Townsend was at pains to stress that pragmatism does not mean disenfranchising the players.

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“At the beginning of games, especially when you are away from home, you want to stay in the fight, and you don’t want to give the opposition easy chances to get into the game, so if that means more kicking then that is the option the nine and ten have to use,” he said. “Although sometimes, like against Ireland, it is about keeping the ball in hand because we were getting quick ball and able to move them around.

“I felt at half-time [against Italy] we weren’t as decisive in our actions – whether that was passing, kicking or running – as we could have been. But then we were really decisive for that 10-minute period [after half-time] and that opened up some spaces for our forward to carry hard with the ball, and then we ended up creating a few opportunities.

“As long as we’re decisive in our actions, and producing quick ball, which wasn’t always the case today, then it is up to the half-backs to play where they sense space and opportunities.”