Now more than three years into his role as Scotland’s head coach, it is easy to forget just good Gregor Townsend was on the playing field during a glittering, ten-year international career.
Having made his debut aged 19 in Round 4 of the 1993 Championship against England, the mazy fly-half went on to become an integral member of the Five Nations winning side six years later, helping Scotland claim the trophy for the first time since 1990.
Alongside making 82 Test appearances for his country – including 43 in the Five and Six Nations – the now 47-year-old was part of the British & Irish Lions series-winning side that went to South Africa in 1997, while he ten made appearances at two World Cups, and enjoyed club rugby spells in Australia, England, France and South Africa.
After hanging up his boots in 2007, Townsend has since enjoyed success as a coach, guiding Glasgow Warriors to their first-ever PRO12 title in 2015 before taking the reins of the national side, whom he led to a third-place finish in his first of three Guinness Six Nations campaigns so far.
As a player, Townsend’s telling contribution during such a landmark period for the national side proves his worth as a contender for the Greatest XV, and he – as a key component of the last Scotland team to lift the Championship trophy – is rightly considered one of the best to have ever pulled on the famous navy jersey.
To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can create your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players, including Gregor Townsend.
PATH TO THE TOP
Born in Galashiels in April 1973, Townsend got his first taste of rugby playing for local club Gala RFC from a young age, gradually graduating through the ranks before making a Scotland B appearance aged 18, and then going on to get his first full cap a year later.
Having been made to wait a year for his second game in Scotland colours, Townsend consolidated his place in the side at the start of the 1994 series, starting the next 35 Tests for Scotland before next being played off the bench.
During that time Townsend became famous for a pass that became known as the ‘Toonie Flip’, as he set up Gavin Hastings for a try in the dying minutes that secured a 23-21 victory over France in the 1995 Five Nations – their first in Paris for 26 years.
Scotland were on the wrong end of Grand Slam showdowns with England both in 1995 and 1996, but after enduring disappointing fourth-place finishes in both 1997 and 1998, Townsend played a pivotal role in 1999, helping his side claim the final Championship title before the introduction of Italy a year later.
Townsend started every game of the 1999 series, notching four tries and becoming only the fifth player in history – and only the second Scotsman after Johnnie Wallace – to dot down against each other country in the Five Nations tournament.
Having seen off Wales 33-20 at Murrayfield in Round 1, Scotland’s title hopes were left hanging in the balance following 24-21 defeat in England.
Wins over Ireland (30-13) and in France (36-22) – which saw Scotland score five first-half tries to win in the French capital for only the second time in 30 years – gave them a shot at glory, but that solitary defeat left their fate out of their own hands.
England were heavy favourites to win the Grand Slam leading Wales by six points heading into injury time in the completion finale, but Scott Gibbs’ last-gasp converted try claimed victory for the hosts, handing the Championship to Scotland for the 15th time.
Townsend was selected for Scotland’s World Cup squads in 1999 and 2003, playing in every game as they were knocked out at the quarter-final stage on both occasions, against New Zealand and Australia respectively.
After his 1999 heroics, Townsend made 18 further Championship appearances in the new, Six Nations format, including in Italy’s first Championship game – which the Azzurri won 34-20.
Hi last Championship game came against Italy in 2003, which fittingly ended in victory, before he retired from the international scene after Scotland’s World Cup exit. A third-place finish in 2001 being as close as Townsend got to lifting the Six Nations trophy for a second time.
In 2009 Townsend returned to the international fold in a coaching capacity, assisting Andy Robinson for three years before enjoying five years at the helm of Glasgow Warriors, where he enjoyed domestic success, while leading the club to the knockout rounds of the European Champions Cup for the first time.
Having been named national team boss in 2017, Townsend surely dreams of producing the kind of magic that thrust his team to Championship glory during his playing days, for which he rightly remains a true Scotland legend.