Rugby-Steely Scotland defence key to resurgence, Townsend says

By Lawrence White

By Lawrence White

EDINBURGH, March 8 (Reuters) - Scotland would have beaten France even without the 33rd-minute red card for prop Mohamed Haouas in their Six Nations clash on Sunday thanks to their impressively resolute defence against the competition's most fluent attack, coach Gregor Townsend said.

France, whose 28-17 defeat at Murrayfield ended their Grand Slam dreams, struggled even before Haouas's exit with Scottish flankers Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie chopping down the ball carriers who were rampant in previous games in the championship.

"I thought we played better in the first half than the second," Townsend said. "We had France on the back foot and we turned them over nine times in the first half in the way we defended."

Scotland, who leaked 17 tries in last year's Six Nations to register the second most porous defence after last-place Italy, have conceded just four in this year's championship under new defence coach Steve Tandy.

While France enjoyed front-foot ball in their earlier games in the coronavirus-hit Six Nations, most notably in their opening round win over England, potent carriers such as Virimi Vakatawa and Gregory Alldritt were largely shackled on Sunday.

Scotland will need to repeat their dogged display to beat a wounded Wales in Cardiff in the final round, after the title holders slumped to a third defeat of the championship against England on Saturday.

“We just have to go down there and show the fight and consistency we have shown here," Townsend said.

Sunday's win bodes well for Scotland, who should be further reinforced after the competition by the reintegration into the squad of stand-out player Finn Russell who media reports suggest has reconciled with Townsend after a falling out.

Townsend, a former star for the national team himself, was under pressure ahead of Sunday's clash, with some fans blaming him for Russell's exodus and questioning if his freewheeling style can work in a modern game often defined by brute power.

"I’ve been really encouraged right the way through the campaign," he said.

The Scots now head to Cardiff with a new belief and third in the table, a far cry from the dismal mood that prevailed among fans after their rain-affected defeat by England last month. (Reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by Ken Ferris)