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Gregor Townsend’s thoughts on Scotland’s best performance of the autumn and looking forward to the Six Nations

Finn Russell tormented Argentina all afternoon at Murrayfield.
Finn Russell tormented Argentina all afternoon at Murrayfield.

Scotland’s 52-29 rout of Argentina had echoes of five years ago – and that should be enough to dampen the confidence of any over-optimistic fan.

Head coach Gregor Townsend identified the similarities between the 2017 autumn finale against Australia – coincidentally, then piloted by now Argentina coach Michael Cheika – and Saturday’s win.

Not really a pointer to the Six Nations

It’s often difficult to link Autumn campaigns with the following Six Nations, said the coach. It’s unlikely the momentum clearly sparked on Saturday will remain after a two month gap.

“I can only tell you after the first game of the Six Nations,” he said. “Today’s game had echoes of Australia five years ago, they had a red card and we put 50 points on them, that was eight tries as well.

“In the next game we lost in the Six Nations to Wales (34-7 in Cardiff).”

Scotland had begun the last two Six Nations beating England, and then lost their second game to Wales both times, he added.

“The last two Six Nations we didn’t kick on after winning our opening game. Autumn becomes irrelevant anyway. It goes game to game, and it’s a constant work-on.

“The guys have shown improvement over this campaign in that area, but we didn’t get four wins so there’s work to do.

“We know we have a number of things to work on, and a very challenging game to open the Six Nations away to England.”

A mistake to leave out Russell?

Finn Russell enjoyed himself in Saturday’s rout.

Finn Russell’s form for Racing and on his return to Scotland colours made a mockery of the decision to omit him from the squad in the first place. Credit to Townsend, after Saturday’s masterclass at 10 he was no longer defending that decision with any gusto.

“I’ll leave that for you guys to decide,” he told the media when asked if the omission was a mistake, or a successful kick up the backside.

Impending fatherhood had already changed Russell, he reckoned.

“He’s talked about changes already,” said Townsend.

“I’m sure the next change will be bigger but they’re definitely ready for that, him and Emma. He’s in really good physical shape which shows how hard he’s been working to bring out the best in his career.

“It’s been a real positive he’s come in and played so well. The work he puts in now in defence. You saw him make three tackles in a row at one stage today. He works hard to get back at kicks, to get on ball more.

“It can only be a good thing if your best and most creative players are getting more touches in a game.” And if you actually pick them, one could add.

But the gameplan was clearly tailored to put Russell in space. Sione Tuipulotu and latterly Cam Redpath acted as first receiver to allow the 10 to loop around and spin flat passes or break.

Argentina’s countermeasures to this were severely compromised by Marcos Kremer’s red card. They never managed to get anyone else near Russell and as a result, he made hay – probably directly responsible for seven of the eight tries, all of which were scored by backs.

Unleashing the strike weapons

Darcy Graham goes in for his second try.

In the opening Autumn test against Australia, Scotland’s strike duo Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe had, cumulatively, eight touches, 2 broken tackles and 63 metres made. And of course, no tries.

Against Argentina it was 23 carries, 13 broken tackles, 270 metres made and four tries.

Yes, Russell got the ball wider and quicker, Argentina were a man down and more for much of the game, and Australia’s frontline defence is pretty good. But leaving the main bullets unfired is never a great idea.

Hat-trick hero Graham in particular has lifted to a new a level this season. He has 15 tries in nine games for Edinburgh and Scotland.

“He must be up there,” said Townsend when asked if Darcy was Europe’s in-form finisher of the moment. “He’s such a threat, I’d love to see his stats and how many tackles he’s broken today (it was nine).

“Yes, he’s a finisher but also a creator. Everyone loves him in our squad because he trains at that level and he’s so tough.

“A big step forward has been getting his body right. Last couple of years he’s had a couple of shoulder niggles and a knee issue. Now he can take those hits he inevitably gets the way he plays.

“With Duhan it’s a good double act. Maybe Duhan is a bit more direct but he does like to break tackles and change direction. The threat from both of them helps both of us.”

‘You have to win the game more than once’

Scotland 52 Argentina 29: Finn Russell’s masterclass and other points from a wild and entertaining finale to 2022 at Murrayfield

Saturday’s victory meant Scotland’s record in 2022 was an underwhelming 5 wins and 7 losses. But four of those losses – in Wales, the third test in Argentina, and home to Australia and New Zealand – came after they’d held commanding leads. More than a converted try in the latter three.

Townsend said the Scots management had identified that issue before the autumn as their “big work-on”. But it still happened twice more – eight points ahead against Australia, nine against New Zealand.

“We have talked about that, nowadays you have to win the game more than once,” said Townsend. “You have to keep that focus and that effort right throughout the 80 minutes.

“That would still be the biggest work on, the consistency of our performances as well. The best performances were this game and last week and they’re great to have, and we’ll need them going forward against the best teams.

“But we want to be tough to beat. That everyone knows when they go up against us, they have to play their best rugby to win.”