Huw Jones batted away any notion that Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend was under pressure after Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations implosion in Italy.

The Scots blew their chance to set up a shootout for the title with Ireland in Dublin next weekend as they went down 31-29 in Rome despite holding a 22-10 lead after an encouraging opening half an hour.

It was the Azzurri’s first Six Nations victory at home for 11 years and their first in the championship since winning in Wales two years ago.

The surprise defeat cranks up the heat on Townsend just five months after the Scots – widely deemed to have one of the best squads in their history at present – suffered a second consecutive World Cup group-stage exit on the 50-year-old’s watch.

However, Jones claimed the players should carry the can for the debacle in the Eternal City and appeared irritated by the suggestion that it would place the long-serving head coach under renewed scrutiny.

“I don’t know about that,” said the experienced centre. “We’re all behind the coaches, we’re all behind Gregor.

“We love the way we play, the way we want to play. We have a good plan.

“When we execute it, it’s brilliant and we play some good rugby. I don’t think this defeat was on Gregor, I think it was on the players.

ScotlandScotland players show their dejection after losing in Rome (Adam Davy/PA)

“We didn’t execute our plan well enough and Italy played well.”

Scotland looked in control after three tries in the opening half hour from Zander Fagerson, Kyle Steyn and Pierre Schoeman. But a disallowed George Horne touchdown – after a foul in the build-up by Schoeman was detected – two minutes into the second half when they led 22-16 proved pivotal.

Italy, who had scored in the first half through Martin Page-Relo, turned the screw with tries from debutant Louis Lynagh and substitute Stephen Varney, and some excellent kicking under pressure from Paolo Garbisi took the game away from the Scots before Sam Skinner’s late try gave them a glimmer of what ultimately proved false hope.

Saturday was one of Jones’ most soul-destroying days in a Scotland jersey, and he said: “We hate losing. It’s really tough to take, hugely disappointing.

Italy Italy stopped Scotland pulling away on Saturday (Adam Davy/PA)

“We spoke during the week before the game about having our best performance, having an 80-minute performance, but we were really poor in the second half. We let the game slip away from us.

“Credit to Italy, they were good, but we had that try chalked off and then conceded four or five penalties in a row. We couldn’t get back in the game and they managed that period better than us.

“Our discipline wasn’t good enough. We didn’t react to that try-swing well enough.

“We are gutted with our performance. Across the board we managed it badly. The leadership and the processes and the communication was good but we’ve all got to look at ourselves and the actions we took.”

While the manner of the defeat itself was bad enough, there was further reason for Scottish frustration later in the day when Ireland’s surprise defeat to England meant Townsend’s men had effectively squandered a golden chance to set up a last-day title shootout with Ireland.

Had they won in Rome, they would have been able to secure a first championship triumph since 1999 with victory in Dublin next weekend.

Instead – although still with an unrealistic mathematical chance of the title – they head to the Irish capital scrambling to avoid a demoralising two-win, bottom-half finish from a campaign that previously promised so much.

Jones admitted it felt like Scotland had let a huge opportunity slip from their grasp.


“Yes, definitely,” he said. “It is really disappointing.

“We wanted to get a win and then go to Dublin next week full of confidence and try to do something but this obviously takes the wind out of the sails a bit.

“We’ve got to react, we’ve got to react quickly and prepare for another game.

“We’ll go through a range of emotions but we’ve got to review it objectively and then turn our attention to Ireland.”