This weekend the game of rugby itself received a transfusion of energy, as finally the Six Nations lived up to its billing and provided rugby fans with sporting drama of the kind not seen since the second Lions Test last year, and before that not seen at test level for some time. The fact that the drama was created with skill in attack rather than restriction in defence was all the more heartening.
It was unfortunate that new lifeblood was drawn from the twitching corpse of a Scotland back division battered into a wholly unrecognisable shape. Wingers in the centre, centres on the wing, half-backs on the wing, forwards on the wing. Wales’s onslaught in the last ten minutes was as physical and skilful as their approach in the first half had been inept in the face of a near-perfect Scotland performance. By the time they finally came at Scotland – sensing as Scotland fans probably could too, the inevitability that they would steal this game – they faced a group of players not used to defending a decent and deserved lead, players out of position: players out on their feet.
Comparisons were drawn in a BBC interview with Scotland and Lions Team Doctor James Robson with the body count in the aforementioned 2nd Lions Test, and while that game had five serious injuries (and a gouge by Schalk Burger), it still seems that great sporting drama must exact a high physical toll.
Scotland are now faced with the removal of the entire first-choice back three, their front-line place-kicker and their fastest attacking player.
I should imagine the pack remains the same for the next game, having done little wrong. Once again the back row were outstanding, Kelly Brown the best I have ever seen him.
At 10 Dan Parks will undoubtedly retain his place and he will deserve it (Godman may conceivably be banned anyway, no one seems sure if it was a red or yellow he received – more distinctly dodgy TV direction from the BBC Wales OB unit).
As we’d all hoped, Dan’s tactical control allowed Scotland to show what they could do playing the game in the right areas. Cusiter too led from just the right side of the law and was outstanding in rallying the troops and defending. I’d still like to see him break more, but unless you are the size of Mike Phillips it seems increasingly hard for a scrum-half to get away from the hangers-on at the breakdown (hangers-on like Scott Lawson, who will wish to forget that particular moment of rashness).
For the next game against Italy, Robinson will have to make changes. I would like to see Grove in, Morrison will have to stay – and he wasn’t too bad anyway. Sean Lamont would move back to the wing (although he should still come inside hunting for work) and probably Max Evans on the other wing. He may look to bring in a specialist winger, but look what Evans can do with 5 minutes on the pitch and the understanding he has with Parks. Southwell is the best candidate to come in at full-back and you have a back division still mostly consisting of players from the core of this team.
Because it is this team you want to preserve, this team that is restoring a little hope to Scotland and so nearly much more, and this team that will want to make sure it never happens to them again.
Things left on the “cutting room floor” of this article: showboating wingers, George Clancy, diving full-backs, Jonathan Davies’ standard of “neutral” commentary, paying attention to the clock, continually being shafted by inept Irish referees, playing running rugby with the roof open, Andy Powell and the game of golf, George Clancy. Feel free to gripe in the comments section!