The Pre-Six Nations Status Report: Scotland

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If a tragedy, in the dramatic sense, follows the downfall of an essentially likeable character, then the Scottish rugby team is the sporting Shakespeare. The glorious failure, a well-worn format in the Scottish tradition, was raised to new heights on that rain-lashed October afternoon at Twickenham.

The most important element of the Scottish tragedy – shooting oneself in the foot – was obscured by a refereeing blunder, but that should not hide the fact that the game was very much there to be won. However, there is no doubt that this Scottish team – more likeable than ever – has won over a lot of neutrals.

How bad is the World Cup Hangover?

Head-splitting. The curtains are drawn, the fridge is empty, no amount of water can sate the thirst, and there’s evidence of Snapchats having been sent in the early hours of the morning.

Understandably, losing to Australia in such circumstances has taken an emotional and physical toll. Neither Edinburgh or Glasgow are going particularly well, despite the former’s lofty league position. The derby matches were not easy on the eye.

As for positives, Scotland did look pretty good on the dance floor during the tournament, playing some great attacking rugby, while they also showed remarkable guts in adversity, and managed their comeback brilliantly against Samoa.

The bad news is that Scotland, under the influence and texting an ex-girlfriend, are succumbing to the same old weaknesses. Points were conceded in exactly the same fashion as during the 2015 Six Nations and warm-up matches, maul defence and kick-off receipt were appalling, and the team once again proved incapable of closing out a tight game.

Modern sportsmen are nauseatingly fond of learning lessons in defeat. Perhaps Scotland’s collective memory is somewhat fuzzy, as no learning seems to have taken place. Both professional teams went out of Europe in familiar fashion.   Glasgow lost a crucial winning position against Northampton in the last five minutes following a piece of bizarrely unnecessary violent indiscipline. Edinburgh, needing only a bonus point to progress from their group, somehow lost both the lead and a seven point deficit after conceding fifteen in the last ten minutes.

Then there are the injuries. Alec Dunbar and Pete Horne will miss the start of the tournament. Mark Bennett is 50/50 for the first game. Grant Gilchrist is still out, as is Tim Visser. Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour have both had issues in recent times.

What is the cure?

Firstly, there is the small matter of Scotland’s restorative brunch: an opening fixture at home against England at an excited and expectant Murrayfield.

Secondly, there appears to be more depth in certain key attacking positions. Even with three centres injured, Scotland can still field Matt Scott and Duncan Taylor, a top class pairing. The back row looks good too, particularly for the inclusion of no less than four genuine open-side flankers. John Hardie continues to do well for Edinburgh after a strong World Cup, and Jonny Gray, never less than excellent, has dragged an underperforming Glasgow pack through games single-handedly since his return.

Two players to watch

Zander Fagerson

Fagerson is an anomaly in a country which has struggled to produce players who can both gain the weight required for international rugby and maintain their dynamism at the same time. Having just turned 20, the prop stands at a full nineteen stone. While his work in the scrum will inevitably take time to develop, he is already an effective ball-carrier and does a decent job in a ruck as well. Although he’s unlikely to see much game time, it is encouraging to see Scotland produce another tight forward with real talent.

Duncan Taylor

Having struggled for over a decade for decent centres, five have come along at once. Playing in England has meant that Taylor has been removed from the eye of selectors to some extent, but they have been unable to ignore a man in great form for what has been Europe’s best team over the course of the season so far. With other centres not fully fit, Taylor may finally get the opportunity to add to his 12 caps.

Prediction

On balance, things don’t look that good. There are injury and form concerns, results have been abysmal in the tournament since 2004, and it’s likely to be wet, negating a talented backline. What’s more, there are only two home games. A nervy win in Rome should avoid a second consecutive Wooden Spoon, but unless Scotland get a victory against England first up, a long Spring awaits. Predicted finish: 5th.

By Charlie King (@CharlescpKing)

Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images

12 thoughts on “The Pre-Six Nations Status Report: Scotland

  1. If I were Scotland I’d be seriously thinking we could beat France at home. The French travel badly, and if you look at the two XV’s I struggle to see how anyone would think the French were significantly worse?

    This Scottish side is good. That being said, I don’t expect to break the top three of Wales, England and Ireland.

    1. If France play like they did last season, I’d expect Scotland to beat them. There’s no guarantee that they will play like that under Noves though, and I really can’t imagine them being so bad again – their players do still perform (generally) for their clubs.
      England at Murrayfield will certainly be interesting (well hopefully, anyway).

      1. I’m not really convinced by that. Looking through their squad I’m really not seeing that much talent.

        They’re a very different animal in Paris, any game there will be tight. But if I were Scotland I’d be disappointed to lose to them at home.

  2. I really hope Taylor gets some game time for Scotland. He’s been on great from for Sarries, and he could forge a great partnership with Finn Russell if the opportunity arises.

  3. I think Scotland’s World Cup form has been massively over-hyped to be perfectly honest. Admittedly they were unlucky to lose out to Australia, but that said: that was one of the worst Australia performances I’ve ever seen, and you only get gifted one of those per lifetime, and they STILL couldn’t capitalise on it. Plus, not to mention that they only just managed to squeak past Samoa a week before, in a game they never looked truly in control of.

    They had a weak tournament with one half-decent game that they still lost, so I agree with this – if they manage to take a win off England I’d be extremely surprised… and there’s no way that French team will let the Scots take one of the only games they’ll be looking to win….

    But then again, stranger things have happened!

    1. I agree with this and in fact would go significantly further. I think Scotland were very lucky indeed to get as far as they did.

      Samoa outplayed them and only lost thanks to a last-minute Scottish try that included a knock-on at the back of the scrum. And Samoa were missing the talismanic beast that is Alesana Tuilagi, who would have been captain on the day.

      Australia – as you mentioned, not putting in the best performance themselves – outplayed Scotland and all that scapegoating of Joubert simply ignored the fact that if they really were as good as many people seem to insist they were, then they wouldn’t have been so dependent on a single decision.

        1. Yeah definitely agree with everything here. Plus, I was really impressed with Italy’s form against Ireland in the WC. It’d wouldn’t completely blow me away if the Italians managed to beat the Scots to be perfectly honest.

      1. It wasn’t a knock on – it was kicked by one of the back rowers – and even if it had been they’d have gone back for the penalty advantage. And is it possible that Australia played so poorly due to the pressure they were put under? Stranger things… And as for the Japan’s four-day turnaround: horseshit. Every team had at least one four-day turnaround – why were Japan the only ones negatively affected by it? Oh, they weren’t, they were just outplayed.

        All that said, I think Scotland have been massively over-hyped and will likely end up 5th. Still, that’s an improvement on last year…

  4. As with the World Cup squad, I think this is the best Scotland squad in at least a decade. There’s genuine competition for places in both the forwards and backs despite injuries and players recently returning from injury. So they genuinely have a great chance at making a proper impact on the tournament.

    However, we’ve been here before, full of optimisim only to be whitewashed and left back at square one.

    We’ll soon see. Can’t wait!

    1. Yes for me the big question mark over this Scotland team since Cotter took over is one of a mental fragility. They are playing far better rugby than they have for several years but time and time again they have butcher a lead in the final minutes of a game or been undone by silly lapses in concentration (often at the restart following scoring some points of their own). I saw no evidence at the RWC that this has changed but this team could well become very dangerous if they ever do

  5. Scotland’s aim should be to win all the home games (+Italy away). France and England are in transition so why not? why the devil not? Any other results they pick up is just a bonus. Little by little.

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