Scotland’s World Cup warm-up match against France at Murrayfield was the 25th for the national side since Gregor Townsend took over as head coach. A decent body of work then to compare with the other seven names who have filled the same role during the professional era.
The overall records for each of the coaches look like this:
In terms of winning percentage the two men most recently in charge, Townsend and Cotter, are comfortably the best performers with the veteran Kiwi narrowly in front. It’s worth digging into those numbers in a bit more detail though to reflect the records against a different quality of opposition.
Scotland vs Tier 1 *
As things stand, despite playing at least 11 fewer games than most of his predecessors, Toony’s teams have the best record against Tier 1 opposition. Ignoring the disastrous Williams’ era (one Tier 1 win) and the temporary Johnson reign (1 win) the current regime’s 10 wins and 1 draw is similar to the other coaches’ production but from far fewer games.
Even within Tier 1 there is a pecking order though and it’s worth noting that the majority of Scotland’s wins at this level have come against Argentina and Italy. If the top rank of teams is scaled back to the members of the old Five Nations and Tri-nations then victories become a rare currency indeed:
Toony still has the equal best percentage but he’ll need to go some through the next spell of his tenure to try and top the 8 wins of Jim Telfer.
Away day blues
Lack of success on the road been a fact of life for Scotland fans for the entirety of the professional era with a lowly away win percentage of 29%. That includes just 21 victories over Tier 1 nations across the 24 years since the end of the 1995 RWC in South Africa. Again most of those Tier 1 victories have been against Argentina or Italy. Scotland’s only away wins versus the Five Nations and Tri-Nations during this time have been:
- 2017 – Australia (Townsend)
- 2012 – Australia (Robinson)
- 2010 – Ireland (Robinson)
- 2002 – Wales (McGeechan)
- 1999 – France (Telfer)
- 1998 – Ireland (Telfer)
- 1996 – Wales (Telfer)
- 1996 – Ireland (Telfer)
There are two significant blemishes on Gregor Townsend’s record in the shape of away defeats to Fiji and the USA, making Toony the only one of these coaches with two losses to Tier 2 nations on his CV:
- 2018 – USA (Townsend)
- 2017 – Fiji (Townsend)
- 2013 – Samoa (Johnson)
- 2012 – Tonga (Robinson)
- 2002 – Canada (McGeechan)
- 1998 – Fiji (Telfer)
If Scotland had picked up the expected victories in those two fixtures then the current era would be running at a win rate of 60%.
One of the big features of the Townsend era has been the acceleration in the rates of try scoring. With 3.4 scores per match, Toony’s nearly a try a game ahead of any other Scotland coach (Telfer – 2.5; Cotter – 2.4). Tries conceded have also increased with the modern game proving looser than the 2000s but in terms of try differential, the current Scotland setup is in a better place to outscore their opponents.
Try differential (average tries scored per game – average tries conceded per game):
- Townsend +0.6
- Cotter +0.2
- McGeechan -0.2
- Hadden -0.4
- Telfer -0.6
- Robinson -0.8
- Johnson -1.1
- Williams -1.3**
Opportunities have been provided to a lot of players over the past 25 games with no less than 26 players making their Scotland debuts. That’s not actually wildly out of line with the ratio of new caps for other Scotland coaches though:
- Townsend – 1.04 new caps per game
- Cotter – 0.78 per game (28 in total)
- Johnson – 1.06 per game (17 in total)
- Robinson – 0.66 per game (23 in total)
- Hadden – 0.56 per game (24 in total)
- Williams – 0.82 per game (14 in total)
- McGeechan – 0.81 per game (35 in total)
- Telfer – 1.06 per game (38 in total)
* Tier 1 being the rest of the Six Nations (England, France, Ireland, Italy and Wales) and the 4 members of The Rugby Championship (Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa).
** It’s worth noting that this total is actually inflated by a 15 tries to 1 drubbing handed out by Scotland at McDiarmid Park in 2004 against what appeared to be a team of Japanese students! Williams’ try differential without this game would be -2.1 having seen his teams score just 22 five-pointers and concede 58 during his 16 other matches in charge.