Gregor Townsend: I still love the Six Nations but I know it could be my last

Gregor Townsend: I still love the Six Nations but I know it could be my last

Townsend, now 49, remembers those milestones with the same enthusiasm you might imagine his seven-year-old self would have: and it provides a telling insight into his mindset when it comes to Six Nations this season.

It will be his sixth championship as Scotland head coach, but he has to accept the fact that it could be his last.

His contract expires at the end of the World Cup in France in October, and Scottish Rugby Union have told him talks of a potential extension will not take place until after this season’s Six Nations, suggesting that the next two months could make or break any hope of being in charge of next season’s championship.

Its win ratio stands at just over 54% over 61 load tests, a better record than any of its predecessors; over the past three seasons, Scotland have the third-best record in the Six Nations, behind France and Ireland, the top two teams in the world rankings.

“I always felt privileged to be in this role”

Yet rather than seeing the prospect of his six-year term being judged on the next five results as a snub, the uncertainty seems to have given Townsend a new sense of freedom. If this is his last Six Nations in charge of Scotland, he is determined to come out on top.

“I always felt privileged to be in this role,” he says. “Even when something negative has happened – the team has lost or there are other issues to deal with – there is something about the Six Nations where you have to pinch yourself.

“I remember flying to Italy last year and we lost to Wales and France and our defense coach Steve Tandy looked a little glum.

“I said to him: ‘Look, we’re going to be at the Olympic stadium in Rome in two days’. Where else in your life and career as a rugby coach can you say we’re going to be at the Olympic Stadium in Rome – experiences made more special by the Six Nations crowds?

“It’s the tournament we grew up watching when we were young and it’s such a special tournament that it reminds you how lucky we are – even when things go wrong.

“We sold out at Murrayfield in November and a World Cup later this year and even now I can’t believe how lucky I am to still be involved in a sport I loved as a as a player and previously loved as a supporter.

“So obviously that’s where it might be the last chance, but if it is, well, let’s go and enjoy it.”

“It’s the best tournament in the world”

It’s a mindset that could have implications for Scotland’s opponents, starting with England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Since Townsend’s first season in charge in 2018, Scotland have remarkably won the Calcutta Cup on four of the last five occasions.

“I guess the longer I’ve been in this job, the more relaxed and balanced I’ve become and taken the time to enjoy things around games,” he says. “Being at the Six Nations kick off last week took me a day of preparation with the team, but it also gives you the buzz. You’re in London with the Scottish captain thinking, ‘This is the best world tournament.

“And it’s the best tournament in the world and has been for quite a while. But now it’s also the best quality.

“Since when have the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the world ever been European teams? Never. It has always been New Zealand, Australia or South Africa in the top two. Now Ireland and France are the top two. England are in the top five and we are seventh. It’s something special. We have the best tournament for supporters and now we have the best tournament for playing ability.

“For years the southern hemisphere got better because they were playing against each other and they were the top three teams in the world. Now we’re playing against each other and we’re getting better by playing against stronger opponents.

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