The Townsend Era: The First Three Years

The third anniversary of Gregor Townsend’s first match as Scotland head coach arrived during the summer – the former Glasgow boss began his reign in 2017 by triumphing over Italy in Singapore. Scotland’s last game, a Six Nations win over France at Murrayfield, was the 35th match of Toony’s tenure. A decent body of work then to compare with the other eight 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 younger man boasting the best win percentage during the last quarter of a century. It is 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 fewer games than many of his predecessors, Toony’s teams have racked up the most wins against Tier 1 opposition. Since the 2015 RWC Scotland have a 49% winning percentage against these teams – compared to 27% against the same opposition for the rest of the professional era.

Gregor has:

  • 4 wins against Italy – equal best among Scotland’s pro era coaches (Vern Cotter and Ian McGeechan also had 4 wins).
  • 3 wins against France – no other Scottish coach has managed more than 1 since 1995.
  • 2 wins against Argentina (1 behind Vern Cotter).
  • 2 wins against Australia (the same number as Andy Robinson).
  • 1 win against England (Frank Hadden managed 2 victories, Ian McGeechan 1).
  • 1 draw against England – the only time Scotland have left Twickenham in the pro era with anything other than a defeat against the Auld Enemy.

Even within Tier 1 there is a pecking order though and it is 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’s record of 6 wins and a draw is the best in the pro era and he also has the highest win percentage among all these coaches.

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 since the game went pro have been:

  • 2017 – Australia (Townsend)
  • 2012 – Australia (Robinson)
  • 2010 – Ireland (Robinson)
  • 2002 – Wales (McGeechan)
  • 1999 – France (Telfer)
  • 1998 – Ireland (Telfer)
  • 1996 – Wales (Dixon)
  • 1996 – Ireland (Dixon)

Try scoring

One of the big features of the Townsend era has been the acceleration in the rates of try scoring. With 3.3 scores per match, Toony is well ahead of any other Scotland coach (Telfer – 3.0; 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):

  1. Townsend +1.0
  2. Cotter +0.2
  3. Telfer 0.0
  4. McGeechan -0.2
  5. Hadden -0.4
  6. Robinson -0.8
  7. Johnson -1.1
  8. Williams -1.3**
  9. Dixon -1.4


Opportunities have been provided to a lot of players over the past 35 games with no less than 28 players making their Scotland debuts. That isn’t actually wildly out of line with the ratio of new caps for other Scotland coaches though:

  • Townsend – 0.80 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 (19 in total)
  • Dixon – 1.06 per game (19 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.

One comment

  1. Nice read. I’m sure the anti-Toony brigade will pay little heed to the stats. We need to start picking up some solid away form if we’re going to progress to being serious contenders.


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