For one week I knew what it was like to be English.
You build something up in your mind so much you believe it. Everyone else around you is jumping on the bandwagon. “We can do it”; “We scored tries against France”; “Satan is backing us”. But then the unthinkable happens… Wales crush us with an average team at our own ground and 15 of our ‘best’ can’t score a try against 13 of theirs. Like a Sassenach sports fan I realise that the hype was too much, too great, and that the reality is something I hadn’t even dared consider…
Scotland are still on course for a wooden spoon decider right now.
So what’s next? Well we have to make things right against Ireland and changes have to be swift.
Previous regimes would have stuck to what we know and hope for the best. They would have played a similar team and merely told the players “we didn’t play the game plan well enough.” I suppose a saving grace is that Andy Robinson has completely changed things up. The game plan is different and the personnel have been shaken up completely. We’ve been proactive (this means looking beyond Parks for the sake of our children!).
I am glad Nathan Hines has been dropped because in the last few seasons he has offloaded going sideways rather than going forward whereas Gray is a physical young man who ploughs forward. I only hope Kellock leaves the carrying to him and focuses on set piece and ruck smashing. Barclay must also step up his game but will want to take out the ageing David Wallace to nail on his title of ‘best 7 in Britain’ as well as being pushed to perform by a reinstated John Beattie.
Both of these men are vital to the game on Sunday because with the team Scotland have selected tactical kicking seems unlikely.
Jackson loves short pops off his shoulder to a pack going forward otherwise he is caught travelling sideways. Beattie, Gray and Lamont therefore have to make yards because we can only afford to give the ball to Evans and a greying Paterson if they have space to run into, otherwise O’Callaghan (*maybe the biggest cheat in World rugby), O’Brien, Heaslip and O’Driscoll will easily turn us over.
In this respect I am excited about the risk Robinson has taken because it means attacking is our only option. He has clearly seen that we haven’t scored a try at Murrayfield in 15 months and wants to do something about it. However it puts a lot of pressure on the pack to get the go forward that has eluded us of late as well as hoping (with fingers crossed) that Evans finally delivers and that De Luca shows why he is continually given a chance.
Defensively, though, I worry. O’Gara is back in the team and will play the corners in order to prod and poke at a blue pack that has been bullied in the last few outings. Tactically he will also rain down kicks in the space behind De Luca and Walker and in front of Paterson because Walker is often out of position and Paterson is fragile at this stage in his career. Indeed defensively expect a lot of traffic in the 13 channel as BO’D runs at De Luca again and again because although he may be caught Walker tends to come off his wing defensively. So if BO’D offloads wide and Bowe or Earls burn him, or he offloads tight to a Heaslip or an O’Brien any of them will be 80% likely to come off favourably with a one on one with Paterson.
The Irish tactics, then, seem fairly obvious. With Bowe on the wing and D’Arcy still in despite his woeful form they obviously expect to get turnovers from kicks as well as distracting the Scottish centre pairing. In an attempt to remedy the ills of the same fixture last season where Scotland ran Ireland off their feet and pressured their way to nice positions to kick points Ireland obviously want to bully this game and play on the front foot- be it a few yards at a time or from the siege-cannon O’Gara has pointed at the Scotland 22.
So with the choice of O’Gara versus Jackson it is clearly a rather negative approach from Ireland and a more swashbuckling outlook from Scotland. If Scotland don’t go forward then this could play into Irish hands and their pack will be made to look like heroes by Reddan and O’Gara. If it does work then Jackson will look like a running sensation and Lamont will be a real contender for 12 at the World Cup.
The sad thing for me is that I only see Paterson having a good game is if Scotland are playing badly or if Ireland are playing well because he will only kick penalties if Scotland cannot get near the Irish line and he only ever goes on a mazy run if Scotland are truly desperate. Shame. Will Jackson take the conversions if we score any tries? I would certainly let him for his confidence.
So sorry if you are a fan of ‘Mossy’ but I hope I won’t be hearing his name much… The same applies to O’Driscoll and O’Gara.
I am buying no hype and am making no predictions. We will wait and see what happens and we will reserve judgement ‘til Sunday. Will the changes work? Don’t answer just yet…