Townsend retains key strategy

Scotland's rugby team at a public training session yesterday, ahead of their Test match against Italy at the National Stadium on Saturday. New coach Gregor Townsend wants his side to play with freedom.
Scotland's rugby team at a public training session yesterday, ahead of their Test match against Italy at the National Stadium on Saturday. New coach Gregor Townsend wants his side to play with freedom.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Scotland's rugby team at a public training session yesterday, ahead of their Test match against Italy at the National Stadium on Saturday. New coach Gregor Townsend wants his side to play with freedom.
Gregor Townsend.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Scotland coach says independence needed to win against Italy and to climb world rankings

It is rarely a good idea to change a winning formula and having inherited a Scotland side who have reached their highest ranking of fifth in the world, new coach Gregor Townsend does not believe much tinkering is necessary to continue their ascendancy.

One area the 44-year-old Scot, who took over from Vern Cotter last month, will aim to encourage is greater on-field independence.

Scotland face Italy on Saturday at the National Stadium, the first time Singapore is hosting an international rugby Test in almost two decades.

Townsend was naturally keen to begin his tenure with a win against the 15th-ranked Italians. He said yesterday: "I want to build on the way the players have played and incorporate the mindset of playing with freedom; moving the ball quickly and players making decisions that are appropriate to the situation.

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"I know those are general terms but that's what we want to build on first. There will be technical changes, but the principles of how the team play will be based on the Scottish strengths of working hard, defending very well and playing with pace."

The former Scotland international comes with a solid resume. He led the Glasgow Warriors to become the first Scottish professional side to win the Guinness Pro12 in 2015.

The 12-team rugby union competition features clubs from Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales and is one of the three major professional leagues in Europe (along with the English Premiership and the French Top 14).

EQUAL TO THE TEST

The principles of how the team play will be based on the Scottish strengths of working hard, defending very well and playing with pace.

GREGOR TOWNSEND, outlining the broad tactical approach for the Test against Italy.

The Scots have an impressive record against their opponents and have won 19 of their 27 matches. The most recent was a 29-0 victory in Edinburgh in March at the Six Nations.

That match saw the Azzurri miss three penalty kicks and a string of chances to score tries and coach Conor O'Shea said his players needed to be more clinical this weekend as they seek a first win over Scotland since 2015.

He said: "At times, it was easier to score than not to score, but we still managed not to. So that's the big thing, execution. If we do that, it'll help us get a little bit of pressure on the opposition.

"They play at huge pace and love keeping the ball at hand and they have a very aggressive defence. In fact, they thrive on pace. That'll be a huge challenge for us."

The presence of two top-tier rugby nations in the Republic is a boon for the sport here and could become a regular fixture thanks to the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, said Singapore Rugby Union president Low Teo Ping.

The last time an international Test was held here was the 1998 Asian Rugby Championship, which also doubled as the Asian qualifier for the 1999 Rugby World Cup and featured Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Low said another Test match, involving Tier One teams from the Northern and Southern hemispheres, is scheduled for Dec 2.

He said: "This is the first Test match between two Tier One teams to be played in South-east Asia and we are looking forward to it in a crowded, iconic National Stadium where the conditions will be fantastic."

•Tickets to the Scotland-Italy game are available at sportshub.com.sg

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 06, 2017, with the headline 'Townsend retains key strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe