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.