Pep talk could be recipe for Scots success
SIX NATIONS SPOTLIGHT: Two days spent with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has given Scotland's rugby coach Gregor Townsend some ideas which could help him guide his country to their first ever Six Nations title.
Townsend, who was a member of the Scotland team that clinched the last Five Nations crown in 1999, and his side laid down a marker as serious contenders for the Six Nations with a thumping win over Australia and a narrow defeat to world champions New Zealand last November.
The 44-year-old former flyhalf said Guardiola's passion had made a big impression.
"The biggest thing about meeting Pep was seeing a coach so passionate about the details of coaching," said Townsend, who was speaking at the launch of the Six Nations which gets underway on February 3.
"It's about how to bring the best out of players, not tactics and the bigger picture, more about the details of how he gets his game over. He was so excited about it.
"He talked a lot about rugby as well, he loves rugby, and how you have to look forward because we pass the ball back. That's a great philosophy that he feels applies to football.
"As a coaching group we encourage each other to learn from different sources."
Townsend, who gave Guardiola a signed Scotland jersey as a sign of appreciation, said it had been an invaluable experience spending time with the two-time Champions League winning coach, who has guided Manchester City into a virtually unassailable 12-point lead in the Premier League this season.
"Hearing a coach that was so passionate about coaching – probably the most successful coach in the game just now - it was great to have that moment and connection with him," said Townsend.
"You always pick up things you can use specifically when you visit a sporting organisation that is very successful and it could be the facility, what they’re doing in training.
"There were definitely transferable messages that he likes to give to his players about off-the-ball effort, which is very important to us as a rugby team."
Townsend, who took over the reins as head coach from New Zealander Vern Cotter in June last year after a successful stint as Glasgow Warriors boss, said it was an exciting time for the Northern Hemisphere competition.
"When I played, the teams dominating were England and France, and whoever sneaked in third had a chance," said Townsend.
"Now you have five teams in that mix. It's a very competitive and high-quality tournament.
"It was a very good year for us, 2017. Three wins in the Six Nations followed by Australia in the summer [June] and in November, and a good performance in New Zealand.
"It was a good year to generate that optimism and that buzz for the game, and now in 2018 we have to build on that and to be better than we were in November."
Scotland captain John Barclay, though, tried to calm expectations and put the team's chances into perspective especially with a tough away trip to Wales first up.
"It is flattering and I guess nice that people are saying those things," said the 31-year-old Hong Kong-born back row forward, who plays his club rugby for Welsh region Scarlets.
"But as I have said Ireland didn't lose a game last November, England have only lost what one game in the last two years, Wales' record in the Six Nations is impressive and France have a great record in this season's Champions Cup.
"Yes we had a good year and it provides a great template and base but ultimately we have to prepare well and train hard for it is a brutal competition."