Gregor Townsend: Scotland need their ‘best rugby of the season’ against Ireland

By Sports Desk March 14, 2024

Gregor Townsend admits Scotland will have to “do something special” in Dublin as he challenged them to score at least 20 points against Ireland and give themselves a fighting chance of a first Triple Crown since 1990.

The Scots are heading to the Irish capital looking to save face after a shock defeat in Italy last weekend all-but ended their hopes of winning the championship and left them staring at the possibility of finishing fifth if results go against them on Saturday.

Townsend is braced for a formidable test against a side the Scots have lost to in each of their last nine meetings – including a chastening 36-14 defeat at the World Cup just five months ago.

“We know how tough it’s going to be,” he said. “They’re one of the top two teams in the world and at home they’ve been virtually unbeatable the last few years so it’s going to require something special from our players.

“We’ve got to accept that they’ll score points on Saturday. I think before (losing 23-22 to) England they were averaging 30 points a game, so it will be a test for our defence, and we have to score points.

“We have to get to 20 or more, which will be tough but we believe we can do that against any team.”

Townsend conceded there is a sense of regret that Scotland – who have two wins out of four so far – are not heading to Ireland with a genuine chance of winning the title.

“The frustration is that we’re not going to Dublin on the back of four wins,” he said.

“We feel we had a win taken away from us against France, and obviously Italy deserved their win but we feel we could have been better that day.

“But we have this game ahead of us to show our best performance of the season.

“We’re still playing for something, not just a place in the table, it’s for a trophy (the Triple Crown), and also we’re playing one of the best teams in the world so that’s got to inspire us to deliver our best rugby.

“It’s weird to think we’re the only team that can win the Triple Crown but the focus is on the performance.

“We know we have to play our best rugby this week. We’re away to Ireland and it’s the ultimate challenge in the game right now. The huge motivator for us is to try and deliver our best rugby of the season.”

Despite last weekend’s disappointment, Townsend has opted to make just two changes, with Glasgow centre Stafford McDowall replacing Cam Redpath and first-choice scrum-half Ben White returning at the expense of George Horne.

The head coach is adamant there is no need for a wholesale overhaul of the team.

“If you suddenly change what you’re doing because of one defeat or one performance that had some negative elements then you’re forgetting what went on beforehand,” he said.

“Before that 20-minute period (in the second half in Italy) when we lost our focus, we played a lot of good rugby and we played a lot of good rugby leading up to the Italy game.

“We know we have to deliver our best performance of the season on Saturday to come away with a positive result and we believe in the players we’ve selected.”

Townsend was heavily criticised after the Italy defeat, but he dismissed any notion that he had felt the weight of the world on his shoulders since returning from Rome.

“No, I feel massive responsibility and privilege being in this job,” he said on Thursday. “It’s a huge purpose in my life.

“I’ve got a fantastic coaching staff and a great group of players around me and I love being in this role. It’s disappointing when you don’t get your best performance but there’s another game to work towards this weekend.”

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