Despite a rather high number of walking wounded reporting for training when Scotland reconvened for camp on Monday, the niggles have been shaken off and now ahead of a potential sixth defeat in a row this weekend, Chris Cusiter and the rest of the squad are eager to make amends.
“Everyone’s frustrated with the run. We’ve had those two close games in the Rugby World Cup and then a tough Six Nations campaign so far. Every team has put us under pressure and we’ve been heavily punished for lapses of concentration at key times. Some of what we’ve produced has been good but we haven’t got a win yet, so Ireland this weekend is an opportunity to correct that. That being said, it’s a tough place to go.”
There is a sense of déjà vu though from two years ago, when Scotland were completely written off ahead of facing Ireland at Croke Park. “We were on not too much of a disimilar run back in 2010 and we went over there as big underdogs. But Dan (Parks) managed to kick that touchline penalty to win it which was an amazing feeling. That’s long ago though, now we need to go over and get a similar kind of result.”
Cusiter was a keen observer of last Sunday’s match in Paris, impressed with the way Ireland’s defence managed to prevent France from playing with the same quick ball they had against Scotland two weeks ago. “We’re wary of the way they used the choke tackle against the French, holding the ball up and suffocating them on a number of occasions, so we need to try and prevent that and create the quick ball we want to play with. They blitzed a lot in defence as well, so we need to try and get behind them in those outside channels and get the ball wide. It’s also about us imposing our game on them though. We scored some cracking tries against France but it’s the defensive lapses that have hurt us when we’ve switched off and they have cost us dearly.”
The fact that those lapses have come in all three matches so far in this year’s championship, raises the question as to whether rather than Scotland simply losing concentration, their systems are simply not working. “Everyone’s fine with the systems we have. We’ve got a defensive operation that works, it’s just keeping the intensity for 80 minutes. The Six Nations can be unforgiving if you don’t concentrate for the whole of each match. You will make mistakes. The turnover try we gave France was pretty soft and to give them just a wee chance like that was pretty disappointing. We need our best game of the tournament against Ireland to have a chance of winning but we’re looking forward to it.”
To simply read Scotland’s tournament though as having played three, lost three, would not only be ignoring the narrow margins of their defeats, bar Wales, but also the resurgence of Scottish youth at international level, something which Cusiter takes great heart from. “They are young but they’re playing with such a lot of confidence. Dave Denton is just physically brilliant as a ball carrier. Stuart Hogg came in and was absolutely fantastic in only his second cap against France, his counter-attacking ability and awareness are just scary for a 19 year old. Plus there’s Duncan Weir, Lee Jones. It’s good to have them all playing well at this level.”
The emergence of the likes of Weir & Hogg at Glasgow Warriors has also been part of the reason for Cusiter’s domestic success so far this season. Impressive results in the Heineken Cup drawing in Montpellier and defeating Bath at home sit nicely alongside a top four spot in the RaboDirect Pro12. With Edinburgh contesting a Heineken Cup quarter final against Toulouse in the coming weeks, the biggest match in Scottish club rugby history surpassing over 20,000 ticket sales for the first time, it’s hard not to feel good about the game at club level.
“It’s been a really good year. There are some massive games coming up to stay in the top four but it’s been really enjoyable and we’ve got a good group of guys who work very hard. We’ve also made some good signings for next season with Sean Lamont coming back plus others who will bring a lot with them to the club. That’s something that having recently signed a contract extension I’m really looking forward to.”
Back to Scotland, if Ireland does not go to plan and Andy Robinson finds himself on a run of six losses, Scotland will have to win in Italy. This is something they have only done twice on their six visits to the capital since the Six Nations began in 2000, so despite the Azzurri have a new coach in Jacques Brunel, who Cusiter knows well from his time in Perpignan, he is taking nothing for granted. “We haven’t won in Rome very often. They’re trying out some new players and new systems so they’ll be a little unfamiliar. It will be a huge challenge.” Win against Ireland and the pressure might drop down a notch. Slightly.
by Ben Coles
Chris Cusiter was speaking on behalf of GUINNNESS. To win the chance to represent your country at the 2012 GUINNESS Rugby Challenge, visit www.facebook.com/Guinnessgb GUINNESS is an Official Partner of the Scottish Rugby Union. (Competition closes: Thursday, 8th March).