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Boks should worry about isolated Townsend's 'only silver lining'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Back-at-work Lions assistant Gregor Townsend has revealed there was just one silver lining to him spending a week in self-isolation in a Johannesburg hotel – that it gave him the chance to watch Springboks matches from as far back as 2018 to get a better handle on their defence and how he plans for Warren Gatland’s team to unlock that rearguard now that he is back on the training field in his role as attack/backs coach.


Townsend was one of the four Lions staff who, along with Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg, were forced to self-isolate for a week after the tourists’ safety bubble was breached by a virus outbreak that was confirmed on July 7.

It left him confined to his room and avoiding everyone else in the Lions camp until last Sunday when Gatland and his squad flew to Cape Town, leaving Townsend and co with a bit more freedom while confined to their Johannesburg hotel. It’s not an experience the Scotland boss would ever wish to repeat, but he did manage to enjoy one upside to his solitary confinement.

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“No, I wouldn’t want to repeat it,” he said about his self-isolation ordeal. “You really miss the conversations you would have after a meeting or being on a training field just to get a feel of where people are and you do feel like you are not there even though you are on a phone call or you are watching the game remotely and messaging the other coaches during the game on things that you are seeing but nothing beats being there.

“There was a silver lining and that was I could watch a lot more of South Africa. I have watched a lot of their games over the last few months but when you go from Saturday, Wednesday, Saturday the focus is on helping to prepare the team.

“But not being with the team I was able to look back at games that they have played as far back as 2018 when the current coaches took over. I am more aware of what we are expecting in defence from them and that game on Wednesday (versus South Africa A) just added to that. It was great for us to learn more about what they are looking to do, for players to feel that during the 80 minutes so that was the only silver lining.


“It was confirming some thoughts and sometimes when you watch a game for a second or third time you see something new. Not all of what you learn or study you can put into a game plan or if it is in the game plan it doesn’t come out that weekend.

“But that experience I had spending a bit more time watching South Africa and in particular the game we played against their shadow team on Wednesday is going to be helpful for us just knowing our enemy, knowing what we can expect in certain situations but we have also got to focus on ourselves too. Knowing the enemy is important but knowing our strengths, knowing what will put them under pressure in getting the game we want to play out in the Test series is going to get us the win.”

It was last month when Springboks boss Rassie Erasmus suggested that Gatland could have something up his sleeve with the appointment of Townsend to his staff, suggesting: “The way he selected his team, his captain, his support staff especially his coaches and then his attack coach combined with who the Scottish guys are, we will definitely see a bit of changing in his game plan but he might be just throwing us some bait, I’m not sure.”


Asked what it was like to have to work without being able to be with the Lions for a week, Townsend added: “It has been a frustrating week being in my hotel room. It’s great being back with the squad on Wednesday and in terms of contingencies what we have found in the past twelve months is that technology can play a big part in connecting with people.

“Whether that is being in a meeting via Zoom or presenting to the players with video clips, having meetings with them over the phone, and actually the week that we had with those two games and the late changes and a lot of people being in isolation, there wasn’t so much coaching time I missed just the connections with the players, being in the room with them.”


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