GREGOR TOWNSEND liked what he saw in Wellington when he visited the New Zealand capital last month.
The Scottish attack coach flew in to check out all the arrangements for his team's Rugby World Cup campaign. He was there for three days and saw the Hurricanes beat the Force in Palmerston North before flying on to Sydney.
“Originally we were to be based in Christchurch,” Townsend said, “but after the earthquake we were moved to Wellington.
“Like everyone in Scottish rugby, I am disappointed for the rugby-loving people of Christchurch, but there is a noticeable World Cup buzz in Wellington and I was very impressed with everything that I was shown.”
The 38-year-old is certain New Zealand will host an “extremely successful” World Cup.
“New Zealand is very much a rugby country and everyone who comes to the tournament will take home wonderful memories and souvenirs.
“Players, in particular, will appreciate playing in New Zealand because everyone knows our game.”
Townsend is employed fulltime by the Scottish Rugby Union. As a first five, he played 82 tests for Scotland and made two appearances for the Lions in 1997, when they defeated South Africa on their home turf.
He knows New Zealand rugby well and played four of his six tests against the All Blacks in Dunedin and Auckland.
“We not only have a hard pool,” he emphasised, “but if we qualify, we could play the All Blacks in the quarter-finals.”
England and Argentina will be vying with the Scots for the two quarter-final places from Pool B.
“We obviously need to win one of these games and hopefully both, but that won't be easy, particularly if you look at the last World Cup, where England finished second and the Pumas came in third.”
Townsend said the Scots wouldn’t be underestimating European Nations Cup powers Georgia and Romania in their other pool fixtures.
“We meet both sides in Invercargill and the Georgians, in particular, could prove quite hard to beat. They will have a big powerful pack, while their defence coach is former Wallaby defence man, John Muggleton.
“Add to these things the changeable weather in Southland and it is obvious we are in for a tough challenge.”
Townsend feels that Pool D could be the toughest group at the World Cup. He said that on the surface, South Africa and Wales should win their way through to the playoffs. But he pointed out that at the last World Cup Fiji beat Wales, and if they can repeat this, they will probably win a quarter-final berth.
“As we all know, the Fijians are unpredictable at times,” he said, “and can play some high-quality rugby, as the Welshmen found out in 2007.
“However, there have been continual off-field problems for them over the past few months and this could have a negative impact, particularly when they meet Wales.”
The Scots have left no stone unturned in their preparations for the World Cup. They will be based at the Copthorne Hotel in Oriental Bay while in Wellington and will begin their Southern Hemisphere campaign with a week on Australia's Gold Coast before moving on to New Zealand.
After flying into Sydney, Townsend, along with 1991 Wallaby World Cup-winning coach Bob Dwyer, went to check out the form of Chris Cusiter.
The 28-year-old Scottish halfback had missed 11 months of rugby after badly injuring his knee in May last year. He played four games with the Southern Districts club in the Sydney club competition and Townsend was on hand to see him play a major role in Southern's upset 15-10 win over second placed Manly.
He is keen for the talented No 9 to win a place in Scotland's World Cup squad and feels the time in Sydney will be a real positive for him.
The following day the Scottish coach flew to Brisbane and was a guest at the Queensland Reds v Crusaders game.
On the Monday he was an interested observer at a full Brisbane Broncos training session and then on Tuesday he drove down to the Gold Coast to check on the team's hotel and training facilities. On Wednesday he flew home to Scotland.
till relatively young, Townsend played 10 matches in two World Cups, 1999 and 2003. In club rugby, he played in Scotland, in Sydney with the Warringah club, Brive, Montpellier and Castres in France, English club Northampton and Super Rugby with the Sharks in South Africa.
He is close to the players and is well aware of their needs and possible distractions.
Always keen to add to his coaching technique, Townsend spent two hours with Dwyer discussing attacking ploys and after the Broncos session, he had a two-hour, private meeting with head coach, Anthony Griffin.
Townsend lives near Melrose, in the Scottish Borders region, with his wife Claire and two sons aged six and eight. He intends to spend the next few weeks working hard to develop Scotland's attacking game plans for the New Zealand campaign.« Back to Archives
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?