GREGOR TOWNSEND says he is confident that the failings in his team’s performance which cost Scotland dearly in their narrow defeat to Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday can be fixed ahead of their next Six Nations clash against France in Paris on Sunday 28th February. 

Scotland entered the match on a high after their thrilling Six Nations opening weekend victory over England at Twickenham but couldn’t deliver the same accuracy as they managed across the whole 80 minutes of that match. In a game of fine margins – as top-level international rugby matches invariably are – Townsend’s boys were off the mark too often at key moments.  

The hosts actually did better than Wales in the penalty count, conceding 11 to Wales’ 13, but they tended to concede their penalties at key moments, and often in a sequence of two or three in quick succession which handed their opponents the opportunity to really turn the screw. 

That was the case during the opening exchanges, when Scotland coughed up three penalties inside the space of four minutes – against Zander Fagerson for a collapsed scrum on one minute 30 seconds, against Matt Fagerson for side entry at a ruck on two minutes 51 seconds, and against Chris Harris for an offside on five minutes 21 seconds – which allowed Wales to settle into the game and take an early three-point lead. 

Scotland were also hamstrung during the final quarter of the match by being reduced to 14-men after the red-carding of tight-head prop Zander Fagerson, whose shoulder made contact with opposite number Wyn Jones’ head as he cleared-out a ruck in the middle of the park. It was a controversial call from referee Matthew Carley, but Fagerson took a long run-up to the collision and there was contact with the head so he put himself in the frame for such a severe sanction. 

It was all so frustrating because for large parts of the match the hosts were comfortably the better team, recovering from that shaky start to race into a 17-3 lead with 25 minutes played, thanks to two brilliantly worked tries from winger Darcy Graham and captain Stuart Hogg. They also deserve credit for fighting back to briefly recapture the lead with a quarter of an hour to go through a second Hogg try, despite being a man down.  

But a disallowed Gary Graham try due to a Scott Cummings obstruction at the start of the second half proved costly, as did a soft try conceded to Wyn Jones as Scotland reeled from the loss of Fagerson just after the hour mark.  

Scotland have now started a 15-day build-up to taking on tournament favourites France in Paris, where they haven’t won since 1999. It will be a huge challenge, but Townsend is determined that his team will get their Six Nations back on track with a big improvement in discipline the number one priority. 

“You have to make sure you don’t give them [penalties] away back-to-back and give easy territorial gains to the opposition, because once you are in your 22 or 10 metres from your own line, you are going to be under pressure,” said the coach.  

“It’s certainly something we can practice,” he added. “We practiced and talked about it a lot after the Ireland game [in the Autumn, when Scotland lost the penalty count 15-10].  

“Discipline is not just one thing, but an easy one to fix is staying onside. Other ones are decision making around what you do in your maul defence. We gave a couple of penalties away there from poor decisions which put us under pressure.  

“There’s also decision making around the tackle area. I don’t think there were many penalties from that in this game – but obviously the ruck clear from Zander led to a red card. So, there are certainly things we can talk about and practice.  

“The opposition put you under pressure to concede penalties, as we did against England and as we did again at times against Wales, so you have to factor that in. But it’s something we can work on and improve, as we showed between the Ireland and England games.” 

Townsend was clearly unhappy after the match when it was suggested that his team simply aren’t equipped at this stage to back up one big performance with another just seven days later. 

“I hope you would have seen evidence of their mentality in the way the players played,” he snapped. “To build up such a big lead and play with that accuracy, that energy, we had Wales under pressure. We built up that lead and had a try ruled out that could have put us even further ahead.  

“We really felt this was going to be an 80-minute contest but we were well ahead on the scoreboard. Other things happened that put us under pressure. Obviously, the red card being one, with our concentration just slipping for five minutes, and Wales taking their chances.  

“But the players backed up their performance in England. I thought the performance was outstanding, and even better in some aspects than the win at Twickenham.” 

Townsend added that he doesn’t expect his players to be psychologically scarred by the Wales defeat, insisting the squad will look at what went wrong, but not dwell on the opportunity missed. After all, a surprise win in Paris at the end of the month will put them right back in the frame for a possible top of the table finish for the first time this century. 

“I want the players to move on,” he said. “We’ve got to take what will make us a real threat and challenge for France, in how we played and how we defended against Wales, and obviously we’ve got to fix the areas that make it easier for teams to get into games, but that would be the process whether we’d won or lost.”