The Townsend Era: Toony’s Tries

Since the start of the Gregor Townsend era in 2017, Scotland have scored 116 tries in 35 matches – an average of 3.31 per game. From Ali Price crossing against Italy in Singapore to Stuart McInally touching down against France at Murrayfield, Scottish fans have been treated to more tries than ever before. 

The players

Scotland’s attacking potential has improved across the board but there are definitely some key men when it comes to the art of try scoring, including a top five that looks like this:

  • Sean Maitland (wing / full back) – 10 tries
  • Stuart McInally (hooker) – 8
  • Blair Kinghorn (wing / full back) – 7
  • George Horne (scrum half / wing) – 6
  • Huw Jones (centre) – 6

Eight of Sean Maitland’s tries during this time have come at Murrayfield. In fact, during his career he’s crossed on ten occasions at the home of Scottish rugby – only Tony Stanger (21) and Iwan Tukalo (11) have scored more tries at Murrayfield.

All in all, there have been 37 different try scorers during Gregor Townsend’s time in charge. Every position on the pitch has contributed. Magnus Bradbury snapped a nine-year scoreless streak for Scottish number 8s when he crossed the whitewash against England at Twickenham in 2019. Willem Nel was the first Scottish tighthead to score a try for more than three years when he barged over against Japan during the World Cup (he was followed minutes later by fellow TH prop, Zander Fagerson).

The scoring workload has been spread across the team but the backs do still grab most of the glory. Forwards have provided 36 tries and backs 77 (with 3 penalty tries rounding out the total). Two positions stand out in terms of their contribution though. Hookers have bagged a remarkable 19 tries – mostly from mauls. It’s the wings who have been the main beneficiaries of Scotland’s improved try-scoring prowess, crossing 32 times so far in the Townsend era.

The tries

The longest distance try scored by Scotland so far during this period was the stone-cold classic against England at Murrayfield in 2018. It started with a quick tap just inside their own 22, progressed up the field via a Finn Russell pass that threaded the eye of the needle followed by Huw Jones’ charge and ended with the top finisher himself, Sean Maitland. That score was one of 33 under Gregor Townsend that have begun in Scotland’s own half.

The try that took the most phases to construct came against the USA when an almighty effort in the dying minutes brought the score that was needed to give Scotland a chance to salvage the game. 18 rucks and 19 phases of graft saw Dougie Fife crash over wide out. Sadly, the conversion was missed and the Eagles held on for a famous win.

That score against the USA was unusual in that most of Scotland’s tries come in the early phases of a move. 45 have been scored off first phase. 43 from phases 2-5; 18 from phases 6-9; and 10 when play lasted for 10 or more phases. Strike plays and turnover ball are absolutely essential when trying to break down modern defences.

The lineout has been the primary source of scoring for Scotland during this time. 47 tries (41%) originated on their own throw-in to the setpiece. Open play kick receptions are next on 17 with a further 16 starting from the scrum. The discrepancy between the two types of setpiece is partially explained by there being far more lineouts – nearly 2½ times as many. Even still the Scots are more clinical from the sidelines – they average a try for every 9 lineouts compared to a try per 11 scrums.

Adding in the 75% of conversions successfully kicked, try scoring has accounted for 84% of all points for Scotland in the Townsend era (by way of comparison under Vern Cotter 65% of points came from try-scoring with just 40% for the same measure when Andy Robinson was in charge). With bonus points now an integral part of all major rugby competitions and World Rugby’s law changes seemingly focused on enhancing scoring opportunities, Scotland’s continuing ability to maximise their tries will almost certainly be crucial in this RWC cycle running up to France 2023.

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