Ireland 34-13 Scotland
Okay, so first things first. Scotland were pretty poor on Super Saturday. You all saw it, so there’s not much point in spending the rest of my afternoon telling you what you already know. Feel free to get it off your chest in the comments section below. Italy looked more like scoring tries with their backs moves than Scotland, and they were on the end of a thumping by the continuing resurgence of Wales. Make no mistake, barring a fluke (as it would have to be) against England in two weeks – a game your fearless SRBlog correspondents will be attending, so you don’t have to – the Italy game will be the wooden spoon decider. And we’ll probably lose it. Scotland had a solid 20 minutes of possession and territory at the start of the Ireland game, several clear cut scoring opportunities to get our Six Nations back on track and yet came away with nothing. Ireland were in our 22 once or twice and came away with the points, setting up the lead they built on in the second half. And that’s the difference. Well, that and Geordan Murphy – if O’ Sullivan doesn’t pick him at full-back against Wales on that form, Ireland will be in worse shape than we are, direction-wise.
There were a few positives. Al Strokosch had a great game, and should get another chance at 6 whether Jason White is fit or not. They both play week-in, week-out against the England back row in the GP but Strokosch is currently the one playing well against them. Ross Rennie came off the bench and made a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, winning two penalties rather than giving them away (unlike his rash and bearded contemporary Mr Hines, who to be fair put in a lot of work otherwise). Our lineout showed signs of a return to form in both attack and defence, and the scrum didn’t get shunted about as much as I had feared. And for the first time, Chunk wasn’t our best attacking player. Sorry, Chunk. There were way fewer skills errors – in the backs the ball was moved around with intent – 94 completed passes in the first half, the stats told us.
But that’s just it. It moved around, and mostly side to side. For 20 minutes. Simon Malkovich Webster broke the try duck late in the game, but we never really looked like scoring more. We know Rory Lamont can score tries – he was on an average of one a game for Sale before the Six Nations kicked off, and on the wing too. Nikki Walker has 4 this season for Ospreys, and DeLuca 4 for Edinburgh. So why can’t they do it for Scotland? (DeLuca’s one is easy, he hasn’t been thrown a decent pass yet.) Even Frank Hadden couldn’t explain why in his post match interview – but should he not be the one with the answers?
Okay, so maybe the coaches have shored up the basic handling errors somewhat, and given the team a more suitable style, but the lapses in concentration were worrying, dissipating any momentum and gifting away points at key moments. Would they concentrate a little more if they thought their places in the 22, not just the starting XV were under threat? Compare them to the Scotland A team, coached by messrs Robinson and Lineen who ran in 10 tries by playing offloading rugby (roll on the Churchill Cup). In the PC game Battlefield 2, your commander has a catchphrase he barks at you every five minutes: “start fighting, or I’ll find someone who can.” While big Nathan might take that a little too literally, it seems to be working with regard to Warren Gatland’s ruthless rotation policy – like season one of Spooks, not even the stars are safe.
And on a day when even Brian Ashton was seen punching the air, and Nick Mallett punching walls, would Frank Hadden inject a little more passion if he, too, was under threat?