Points on the Board

Scotland 15-15 England

Usually in recent years it has been the case that Scotland are thumped by an England team, or manage to doggedly grind out a win against them with penalties despite their try line having been under severe pressure for most of the match (similar in style to the recent wins in ’06 and ’08, or the win against Australia). So the result on Saturday was an odd one, and yet in some ways curiously satisfying. Scotland actually dominated that game for the first half and chunks of the second. Line breaks are now a regular occurrence rather than a rarity, the pack is settled and solid and the stupid errors or a lack of passion that blighted these players seem now to be few and far between. Remember under Frank Hadden when performances would veer wildly from week to week, with one leak being patched only for another to spring up? Under Andy Robinson, who has not started nearly so well as Hadden results-wise, he seems to be fixing the leaks one by one – now it seems to be consistent problems that Scotland face while the little worries are smoothed over – and these problems can eventually be worked around. I hope.

The main problem is of course, an inability to score tries and has been for several years. The real answer is probably that without a genuine play-maker at 10 or 12 Scotland will always struggle. In recent years Mike Blair has been the creative force in attack and when on form his spark may have to some extent hidden the inadequacies of the players outside him in creating for themselves. However, I’d like to stick my hand up at this point and say that Graeme Morrison has come in for some stick from me of late and his performance on Saturday made me hope that such criticism would henceforth be undeserved. In addition to his solid defence (which I hadn’t really paid attention to but must have been the key factor in his continued selection) he finally started making line breaks like some sort of Weegie Jamie Roberts.* If he could just start offloading like Roberts, allied with someone pacey and cunning outside him (Evans, De Luca, Grove or Cairns?) and the support lines of Barclay and Beattie (who are at the moment doing more than their share of ball carrying) then perhaps it would keep us going until an all-round standoff is unearthed. Parks of course, continued his renaissance – even being applauded on to the pitch – although some of his earlier tendencies (fluffed kicks to touch, chipping when there’s an overlap or passing into traffic when the grubber is a better option) started to appear again. Don’t get too confident Dan, you play much better when humbled! Still, we are playing the game in the right parts of the pitch and actually playing a lot less ping-pong than some of the other teams (moral high ground goes a long way in Scotland).

The pack is starting to gain confidence in the lineout which under the likes of Scott Murray was long an area of Scottish prowess but has of late been a liability. The scrum is in theory an area of strength, but Euan Murray has had an inconsistent tournament so far and it has been Chunk who is the front row hero. And finally, a bit of niggle from Ross Ford, who had one of his best games in ages in attack and defence and really threw himself into it. Before we get too critical of the SRU for not blooding young players, let us not forget that Barclay is 23 and Beattie 24 and already they are part of a unit that is starting to look as if – given a few years under Robbo’s tutelage – it will be truly world class.

Despite the positives from a Scotland viewpoint, they still very nearly lost it and got nothing from a thoroughly average England team (lucky to keep 15 men for periods of the game) which would have been a real tragedy for this team that is finally coming together with a singularity of purpose and a gameplan it seems like they all buy into. It’s just a shame that in addition to that, this team will also have a Wooden Spoon – but the “earning” of that may be the most telling lesson of all.

* PS The official match statistics have line breaks at 0-1 in favour of England! Presumably this means all the breaks were after the defensive line had advanced up from the gain line? Scotland also had a 95% tackle completion, 5-0 in turnovers but apparently made 6 more errors than England’s 7. I guess “being ineffectual” doesn’t count as an error.

PPS I meant to say something about the ill-mannered booing of kickers and substitutions but I forgot to. It does us no favours as a rugby crowd especially if we only do it during England games, and even caused the England fans to join in booing Parko… can we stop please? If you’re on a school trip, anyone who boos should be threatened with detention… Although I can understand wanting to put kickers off, the booing of players going off with injuries alleged to have occurred on Saturday is disgusting. Although John Beattie Sr has an interesting piece on the booing subject and on Thom Evan’s visit to the team on Friday over on the BBC.

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6 comments on “Points on the Board

  1. Iain on

    I was at Saturday’s game and I thought the Scottish pack were absolutely superb. Apart from the set scrum (where Euan Murray, of all people, appears to be struggling), every facet of their play was about as good as it could be and they controlled the English pack throughout. The line-out was excellent and the back-row were once again dominant in the loose. I also agree with you that Ross Ford had his best game in a long time (why do we insist on taking these players off?!).

    As for the backs, outside England’s 22 they played some nice stuff and made a number of half-breaks. I do feel, however, that the players running deeper lines are still not standing deep enough and, as a result, aren’t hitting the contact hard enough. That said, there were a number of bright performers in the backs, with perhaps only Sean Lamont having a below-par game.

    It all makes me wonder how we didn’t win. The simple truth is the players still panic when they get close to the line and seem to fling the ball aimlessly rather than communicating and creating overlaps or gaps for runners to expose. This is still a serious issue for Scotland and, unless sorted, all the good things happening on the pitch at the moment will mean nothing. The other factor on Saturday was needless penalties given away at the start of the second half. The pressure wasn’t great and these silly penalties did us no favours.

    Finally, I have heard some fairly hysterical reactions to the behaviour of the crowd on Saturday, with some people labelling the Scotland fans as a “disgrace”. This is complete nonsense and I felt the crowd was absolutely magnificent on Saturday. There is nothing more depressing than going to Murrayfield and being outsung by huge numbers of Welsh/Irish/English and it was great to see the Scottish crowd dominate on Saturday. Contrary to what some have said, Wilkinson was applauded when he went off the pitch and Monye got a wonderful ovation (Thom Evans’s injury is still fresh in the memory). The mischief and ironic cheers added to the atmosphere and I’m sure made it a more pleasurable experience for both sets of players. It also helped build up the crowd for the fantastic finale when every Scottish attack was greeted with a huge roar. There are many who attend Murrayfield who would rather its atmosphere resembled an airport waiting lounge. If those who demand that children sit down every time Scotland are on the brink of scoring have their way, the stadium will turn into the dead animal it often threatens to become and away fans will make it their own. We should be proud of the way the crowd got behind the team on Saturday and I hope to see more of the same passion next time I go.

  2. Neil Scott on

    Getting behind your team, in a positive way, is one thing – to be encouraged; booing the opposition goal kicker is a different matter – to be deplored. I take my lead on this from Bill McLaren, who would not have approved!

  3. John on

    I disapprove of booing a kicker but an ironic cheer is okay by me if they miss. I was there on Saturday and I agree with everything Iain says.

  4. Rory on

    From watching on TV I actually felt the crowd was pretty good too in terms of general atmosphere, as Iain says Murrayfield can really suck when you are drowned out by the away fans so it was good to hear a bit of singing and cheering, but it should be happening for all our matches not just the England one.

  5. wendy on

    I had a French friend there and he says he was admirative of the scottish fans (singing,cheering,etc…) but I also hate the booing (sorry but it reminds me of football)

  6. Charley Horse on

    Reading this i think I must have been watching some other team called Scotland. I agree that we lack a play maker but we also lack cohesion and direction. My two pence worth – we have tried to adopt the English style of play – Freakishly large and highly disciplined forwards used to force errors so Wilkinson can rack up points with the boot. So we have been picking players based on their ability to fit in with this model. Our natural game is more like the French style, fast, open attacking. If we lack a play maker, we also lack insight into the failures of the last few years and a vision of how best to overcome this. Finding comfort in a game the Irish lost is an example of this blinkered thinking. Time to smell the coffee or we should stay at home for the World Cup

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