Another year, another pretty miserable Six Nations for Scotland. Our celtic cousins over the sea celebrate their shiny new Grand Slam – created out of gritty Munster-like determination (and a missed penalty) rather than any sort of fantastic rugby – and those in Wales cry into their Brains after slumping to fourth in the table despite being in with a shout at the end of a fantastic deciding match. France were their usual schizophrenic selves, Italy look like they may be going backwards and England seem to be starting to develop a little unit cohesion and some decent backs whilst maintaining that indisciplined streak that lets other teams back into matches.
And so it was for Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, where Paterson and Godman kept us just about within touching distance, and a little bit more vision/ruthlessness/Ugo Monye having one leg might have seen us snatch an unlikely victory. Once again Al Strokosch put in a powerful performance, but it’s about time someone else steps up to his intensity levels. Euan Murray gave England a tough time in the scrums, but was not totally dominant even once Vickery went off. He started to show up in the loose again too, which is good. Mike Blair had probably his best game of the tournament, but that’s not saying much and sad to say that may not be enough to put him on the plane to South Africa, where in the autumn he was a certainty. Thom Evans once again set a stadium alight with a try that almost was, but he has now become the Shane Williams of Scotland – marked heavily wherever he goes. World Class Phil Godman seems to have put the “who should play 10 for Scotland” debate to bed, but the Scottish attack is still not setting the heather on fire, let alone the sunny turf of Twickenham. Credit must also go to England who finally look to be adding the ruthlessness to their game that has been missing for a while. No sense in dwelling too much on the past, so here’s what I would like to see in the future, Six Nations wise.
Let’s Have More Of:
Scotland’s Defence, for the most part. In the first half against Ireland, much of the France game and all of the Italy game the defence was solid and convincing. Al Strokosch may not put in the crowd-pleasing big hits that Jason White did, but his work rate is phenomenal – it’s the little hits, all the time, phase after phase that help us. We turned over a lot of ball with Scott Gray at 7 too. Barclay is undoubtedly the future in the position, but Gray was probably the standout man in blue during the Calcutta Cup match and it’s good to have competition for places.
Scotland scoring tries. Well, for a while at least. It was good to see Simon Danielli coming on to some form after some pretty cruel luck in the past, and you fancy in the autumn there will be real competition for back three places from the Lamont boys, Evans boys, Malkovich, Mossy etc. The A Team tour to Romania in the summer should be interesting too. Unlikely you’ll find it on TV though.
Chris Cusiter. I hope he has a couple of blinders for Perpignan to round off the season, and I hope Geech is watching.
Euan Murray destroying opposition scrums. Yeah, something to cheer about!
Andrew Cotter. Is he the new Bill McLaren? Maybe even some more of Lawrence Dallaglio who was balanced and fair in his assessments. Rob Henderson, Andy Nicol and Philip Matthews were also pretty good. The rest sadly fall into the second half of this article.
France playing sexy rugby. That first half against Ireland was brilliant, no matter what Marc Lievremont thinks.
Brian O’Driscoll being good, and like the Murphy’s not bitter. Seems to have lost the chip on his shoulder that he got from Tana Umaga, and in perfect time for the Lions.
Let’s Have Less Of:
Scotland Being Rubbish. Okay so we have a tiny player base compared to say England (apparently approx 30,000 vs 715,000 or so), but we have some decent players once it is just 22 vs 22, so why do they perform so inconsistently? Sorry Frank, but I think it comes down to coaching and confidence in their selection based on form or position. We need to be a bit sharper in midfield too. It would be interesting to see whether a new coach would persist with bruisers at 12, or go for someone with more varied angles of running and distribution like Ben Cairns or De Luca – assuming he can get over the handling issues he still seems to suffer at international level. Sir Clive Woodward probably would have brought in a team psychologist now to get to the root of it, and maybe it is ingrained in our national psyche but something needs to be done to sort it. Even change for changes sake, which worked last time.
Not picking second rows in the second row. It started off being about injuries, and ended up with the selectors painted in a giant corner in a fetching shade of red face. Kellock and Hamilton both restored balance and ballast to the lineout – think what they could do with a proper second row. Nick Mallet picking Bergamasco at 9 falls under this umbrella too.
Bickering BBC Pundits. Brian Moore, Eddie Butler, Austin Healey, Jonathan Davies – leave us alone please. Give us some pundits who can keep their flags in their back pockets and pronounce people’s names. John Inverdale telling Rafa Ibanez to be quiet because they wanted to talk about England was one of the worst things I have seen from a BBC punditry team that often seems over-burdened with “faces” – some people might use another term…
Indecision over the ball being in or out of the ruck. One thing Moore-oh gets right. Half-backs sitting guarding a ball that is clearly no longer in the ruck kills the momentum of the game. If they can put their hands on it to pass it, the ball is out. Else they are handling in the ruck, no? Let the defence at it. If a ref is shouting “ruck” every so often, it’s only a couple of extra breaths to shout “ball out” and remove the indecision.
Diving. Italians and pseudo Italians (Nigel Owen’s “drama school” quip after Danielli took a tumble was classic), I’m looking at you.
Aerial Ping Pong. Is it really the ELVs? Not really. Is it actually that the breakdowns are now (mostly) refereed according to the laws in existence and it has become a lot easier to turn over ball in contact that causes the “you make a mistake – no you make one” dialogue between full backs.
What about you? Please add your own in the comments here below. Thanks for reading during the Six Nations, we’ll be back soon with the results of the nailbiting (for the six of us involved) fantasy rugby. Then it is time for the big daddy of tours set to dominate the rugby world from now until June – the British and Irish Lions in South Africa. Check out Planet Rugby for their analysis of who’s in form now after the Six Nations has finished. Good to see a few Scots in there, I’m sure if they make the tour they can make an impact.