But after an impressive showing in the Heineken Cup this weekend, where both Glasgow and Edinburgh won against quality English opposition, Townsend has found cause for optimism ahead of the 2012 RBS 6 Nations.
"The results at the weekend were great and this has the potential to be a breakthrough year for the Scottish clubs in Europe," Townsend told The Scotsman.
"Glasgow have come into the competition with some momentum from winning regularly and Edinburgh got a good win out in Treviso before heading to London Irish, and when you win the first game in your pool then your chances of qualifying increase by 20 per cent - while for London Irish, Bath and Racing Metro they decrease.
"Obviously, it's only one game and there is a long way to go yet, but it's now about building momentum and if they can get wins this weekend we could really be optimistic."
A number of Scottish youngsters in particular impressed Townsend over the weekend and the former Borders and Northampton centre admits he is excited, not just about next year, but looking even further to 2015 and the next World Cup.
"The emergence of talented boys learning in this environment (the Heineken Cup) is what I am really excited about," he added.
"It was a disappointing end to the World Cup for us, but as soon as you leave it you're starting to look at the Six Nations, and about the players and the teams that could come together to help Scotland win the next game.
"There was an obvious concern a few years ago that we weren't getting young stand-offs coming through, and then Ruaridh Jackson emerged, and now we have Duncan Weir, Gregor Hunter and Harry Leonard starting to learn at pro level.
"The SRU is working hard on programmes to bring players on quicker, and it's something we can learn from the World Cup. We need to be planning not only for the Six Nations coming up, but the next World Cup in 2015
"And when you look at the 19/20 year-olds we have talked about who are stepping up at the professional teams, and the World Cup performers like Ross Ford and Richie Gray and the form they are in coming back from the World Cup you start to see reasons to be optimistic."