Scotland face an anxious wait to find out if three of their most experienced and influential players will be ruled out of their Six Nations denouement against Italy at Murrayfield next Saturday lunchtime due to injury.

Stand-off Finn Russell was clearly concerned about his heavily strapped left knee when he was replaced in the final minute of yesterday’s 22-7 loss to Ireland, Stuart Hogg came off the park after 64 minutes of his 100th cap struggling with an ankle injury, and second-row Richie Gray only managed seven minutes before popping a rib and being replaced by Scott Cummings. All three players were being scanned or x-rayed last night.

Losing any of those players will be a set-back, and head coach Gregor Townsend pointed to the absence of Gray for 73 minutes of yesterday’s match as a factor which contributed to the team failing to build on a promising first half in order to secure a first win over Ireland since 2017.

“He has been a very important player for us and today our line-out did not function as well as it has this season and part of that was the disruption of him going off,” said Townsend.

“I am very disappointed with that second half,” the coach continued. “The first half was a very good Test match that went end to end. I felt we were on it and the players were a bit deflated they were not leading at half time but that happens.

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“We managed to stop Ireland scoring a couple of times in the first half and a couple of times they stopped us. It is just disappointing that the second half was not as competitive and there wasn’t the same energy level from us, which allowed Ireland to get ahead.

“We chased the game. Maybe we had to, but maybe it was too early to chase the game. We were certainly not happy with that last 15-minute performance.”

Pressed on why Scotland – who take pride in their fitness – couldn’t match Ireland after the break, Townsend struggled to find an answer.

“I felt the whole of the second half we were not at the level we had been at the first half and whether we expected things to come to us, I can’t say,” he mused. “It was difficult for us once they went more than a score up.

“It was disappointing by us in defence, it was disappointing in attack. We were passive at time, and we lost the contact in the second half.


“We had been so good in the contact in the first half. Two or three occasions we moved the ball wide but didn't get there quick enough so it is something we have to improve because if you are getting turned over you are giving a very good team more opportunities.

“You have to credit Ireland. Mack Hansen was excellent. He got two of the jackals. We will look at ourselves, our own technique, and whether we can be in position quickly enough.

“I do feel that first half was such a high level of pace and energy both teams were not replicating that at the beginning of the second half, but Ireland got confidence from going ahead and we started forcing things.”

Focus now turns to next Saturday, and Townsend insisted that his players will be able to lift themselves to finish a campaign which started well but has now fallen away with a flourish.

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“I suppose the internal focus of putting what we’ve been working towards into an 80-minute performance is the motivation,” he said.

“That’s what we were aiming to put out there against Ireland. A lot of that first half was at a high level, probably some of the best rugby we’ve played, because of the quality of the opposition.

“But 40-50 minutes isn’t good enough and it won’t be good enough against Italy either. They are a very dangerous team with nothing to lose.

“It’s a similar message to the one we gave the players after the New Zealand game last November. That was on a Sunday, we played longer at a higher level against them and lost the game, and we said we had to go out and play our best rugby of that campaign the following week against Argentina.

“We did that and that will be the goal again this week against Italy.”