Scotland and Gregor Townsend return from Paris pleased but also left with regrets - 'we scored three tries and left two or three out there'

Gregor Townsend arrived home from France with much to be pleased about, but also a few regrets.

The Scotland coach was enthused about the "resilience and intelligence" his side showed in Paris but he knows they needed to be more clinical. They scored three tries in the Stade de France but probably could have had a couple more against hosts who eventually won 32-21. Zander Fagerson was agonisingly close to grounding the ball for a try in the first half during a sustained period of pressure, and then Duhan van der Merwe was forced into touch before he could touch down as Scotland worked on clawing back France's early lead.

Conceding three tries and having a player sent off inside the opening 19 minutes sounds like the prelude to a particularly harrowing Scotland away day but they showed composure and maturity in trying to retrieve the situation. They were helped by Mohamed Haouas’ dismissal which evened up the sides and again demonstrated the France prop’s propensity for violence. Three years after punching Jame Ritchie in the face, Haouas saw red again for launching himself headfirst at Ben White. The incident came shortly after Grant Gilchrist was dismissed, leaving Scotland short-handed for around five minutes.

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The ability to regroup and refocus shown by the visitors as they clawed their way back into the match with three tries of their own had Townsend believing they were on course to follow up the wins over England and Wales with a rare victory in Paris before Gael Fickou snuffed out Scotland with a try in the final minute.

Duhan van der Merwe so nearly scored for Scotland against France at the Stade de France.Duhan van der Merwe so nearly scored for Scotland against France at the Stade de France.
Duhan van der Merwe so nearly scored for Scotland against France at the Stade de France.

“The way the game was going it was ours to win,” said the coach. “If you take it back to Twickenham they went on and won that. That is the feeling you want. They are gutted there were a couple of errors and not taking opportunities so it was on us, we did not take it. But to even get into that position, and I will be watching it back, some of the play was fantastic but it showed who we are. We were playing a team that had not lost a game in 2022, at home, and we are gutted we don’t win, gutted we don’t score four tries. We scored three tries and left two or three out there so that shows that this team can take on anybody in the world.

“There was resilience and intelligence over how we played. There were big moments we were winning but another couple of big moments we will regret.”

Asked before the tournament what Scotland's ambitions were, Jamie Ritchie said "five big performances ". They have delivered three so far but Townsend is aware they will have to take it up a notch against Ireland at Murrayfield on March 12.

“We know we have to play really well to win,” said the coach. “They are a quality side. Number one in the world. We can’t wait to play them. We couldn’t wait for Sunday’s game. We want to take on the best teams and we just need to improve from Sunday’s performance.”

Jonny Gray played 70 minutes following Grant Gilchrist’s dismissal and did well.Jonny Gray played 70 minutes following Grant Gilchrist’s dismissal and did well.
Jonny Gray played 70 minutes following Grant Gilchrist’s dismissal and did well.

Gilchrist will almost certainly be suspended for the Ireland game – he will attend a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday – and possibly for the home match against Italy six days later, after his high tackle on Anthony Jelonch saw him dismissed after seven minutes in Paris. Jonny Gray stepped off the bench to plug the gap in the second row and will likely line up alongside brother Richie against Ireland should Gilchrist be banned.

Sam Skinner, who came on for the final ten minutes in Paris, is another option, as is Scott Cummings who has played in Glasgow Warriors’ last two games following a long lay-off with a foot injury, but you suspect Townsend will once again try to keep changes to a minimum. Consistency of selection has served Scotland well in this championship thus far. The failure to get even the losing bonus point their performance deserved against France means the Scots face an almighty task to overhaul Ireland at the top of the table a week on Sunday and go into the final round in the box seat. They would need to beat them with at least four tries and by a margin of 14 or 15 points and deny them a losing bonus point into the bargain.

A more realistic target is the Triple Crown, something Scotland haven't won since 1990 in the days before anything tangible was awarded for the feat of beating the three so-called “home nations”. A shiny silver shield is now available and will be presented to Scotland if they can conjure up any sort of victory over the Irish. It's long overdue. The last came when Vern Cotter's side won 27-22 at Murrayfield in 2017, with Stuart Hogg scoring a couple of tries. Hogg is one course to win his 100th Scotland cap on March 12 and a win would be a tangible sign of progress for Townsend's team which would also lay down an important marker ahead of the sides’ meeting at the World Cup in Paris in October. It would also represent something of a homecoming for the Triple Crown trophy which was made by Edinburgh jewellers Hamilton & Inches in 2006 but hasn’t yet found its way into Scottish hands.