Gregor Townsend eyes Nations Cup triumph ahead of place in the record books

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is eyeing a win over France to give his side a shot at Nations Cup glory.
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is eyeing a win over France to give his side a shot at Nations Cup glory. (PA Wire)
14:46pm, Fri 20 Nov 2020
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Gregor Townsend insists silverware will be Scotland’s main driving force this weekend rather than the chance to equal a feat last achieved by the nation’s Grand Slam heroes.

The Dark Blues welcome France to Murrayfield on Sunday looking to make it six wins in a row for only the third time in the nation’s modern rugby history.

The last Scottish sides to rack up a similar winning streak were the classes of 1925 and 1990 – who both completed clean sweeps of the Five Nations as part of their record-setting runs.

But Townsend – whose team have beaten Italy (twice), France, Georgia and Wales on their current hot-streak – would prefer to see his team rewarded with a something tangible in the shape of the Autumn Nations Cup rather than a place in the record books.

With this weekend’s clash against Les Bleus effectively a semi-final now that Pool B rivals Fiji have had all three group games – including next week’s clash with the Scots – cancelled following a Covid outbreak, Townsend’s team sit on the verge of playing for a trophy if they can muster a repeat of March’s victory over Fabien Galthie’s team.

“The opportunity is about winning this game and what that would mean to this group in terms of getting into the final to play for first or second in a couple of weeks’ time,” he said.

“We know what a challenge France are going to bring – one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the world right now, so that’s all we’re thinking about.”

Scotland ended French hopes of the Grand Slam when they became the only team so far this year to topple them back in the Spring.

David Sole (centre) was the last Scotland captain to lead his side to six straight victories with their Grand Slam-clinching win over England back in 1990 (PA Archive)

Their prospects were greatly boosted that afternoon when Mohammed Haouas was sent off for punching Jamie Ritchie but Townsend insists his team were already on course to victory when they were up against 15 men.

“We played well that day back in March and we were playing well before the red card,” said Townsend, who has made five change to the team which beat the Azzurri in Florence last Saturday. “I think we went 6-0 up and were getting into our groove in attack and defence.

“It was a really good game. I think the red card led to France attacking more than they had in other games – it was the lowest they kicked all year, which can cause you more problems.

“But I felt we took our opportunity just before half-time, and a few minutes after half-time we gave ourselves a bit of breathing room on the scoreboard, and the players managed the game really well after that.

“We could have done better. There were opportunities we missed later on in the game to get another try, but it was certainly our best team performance of the year, especially in defence.”

It will take another seriously stiff display at the back for the Scots to keep out fully-loaded France this weekend, with Galthie ditching plans to leave his big-hitters at home after seeing their Group B opener against the Fijians axed.

Townsend fully understands the scale of the challenge facing his team but backed his players to overcome it.

The head coach – who is now considering giving his players some time off next week now that their own Fiji fixture has been cancelled after the Pacific Islanders reported 29 positive tests – said: “I don’t know if happy is the word I’d use after seeing their team but you want to play the best teams when they’ve got everybody available.

“We were due to play New Zealand this weekend before the world changed and normally when you play New Zealand they are ranked one in the world.

“Now we are getting the opportunity to play France who have been the best team in the world in terms of results since the World Cup.

“So you want to see where you are when you take on the best teams because the wins are even more special.

“It has created a real focus and edge in training. It feels like a proper Six Nations game even though it’s the Autumn Nations Cup because France are playing so well and they’ve brought their best players.”

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