Gregor Townsend still believes in Scotland despite shock loss to Italy

A calamitous second half proved costly for Scotland in Rome.

Gregor Townsend still believes in Scotland despite shock loss to Italy SNS Group

Frustrated Gregor Townsend refused to entertain questions about his future after Scotland suffered a calamitous second-half collapse on their way to a costly 31-29 Guinness Six Nations defeat in Italy.

The Scots arrived in Rome aiming to enhance their bid for a first top-two finish in the championship this century, while they still held out some hope of winning the title. However, their loss in the Eternal City, allied to England’s win over Ireland, leaves them staring at the prospect of a bottom-half finish.

Things looked to be going well for Townsend’s team when they led 14-3 and 22-10 during the first half following tries by props Zander Fagerson and Pierre Schoeman and wing Kyle Steyn. A disallowed George Horne try early in the second half following a foul by Schoeman proved pivotal though.

Italy, who had scored in the first half through Martin Page-Relo, turned the match in their favour 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 hope.

Scotland incredibly still have an outside chance of finishing in the top two as they prepare to head to Ireland for their final match next weekend, but losing to Italy for the first time since 2015 represents a major setback for Townsend just five months after an underwhelming display at the World Cup brought pool-stage elimination.

When the head coach, who is contracted until 2026, was asked if he felt his job was under threat after his side became the first to lose a Six Nations match in Rome since 2013, he said: “I’m not going to answer that question.

“We’re disappointed with the result today, but we know this team have come on since the World Cup.

“We can look at this result and be really disappointed, but I’ve been really proud of how this team’s played during the championship so far.

“I believe in this group. You can look at results and say: ‘We’ve lost to Italy, this team aren’t going to take that next step’. Or you can look at where we’ve grown since the World Cup.

“I still believe the performances the players are putting in can show we can beat anybody.

“But if we take our eye off the ball for a period of time, we can be beaten. That’s what happened today.”

Townsend admitted Scotland were architects of their own downfall – although he did acknowledge a superb performance from Italy, who won their first championship match since their victory in Wales two years ago.

“The credit has to go to Italy as well,” said Townsend. “There are two teams that play the game, not just one. I thought that Italy were very good even in the first half where we dominated most of the possession.

“But our actions after the try that was disallowed weren’t good enough. We gave Italy a way into the game through penalties and field position. If you give that to any team in the Six Nations, they’re going to take the points, which they did.

“It’s very frustrating that we didn’t get that try, which is down to our execution, and after that it was even more frustrating.”

Townsend admitted the result “hurts a lot” but he remains steadfast in his belief that Scotland are continuing to make progress overall under his stewardship.

“We won in Wales for the first time since 2002 this year,” he pointed out. “We retained the Calcutta Cup. We had a decision (over what would have been a match-winning try) go against us in the game with France.

“This result is very disappointing. We’ve lost against a good Italy side, one of the best Italian teams I’ve seen. But today is not what defines this team.”

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