When you read a national newspaper everyone is obsessed with numbers. People want a player rated out of 10, a statistical breakdown of offloads out of the tackle and the number of pints sold at a ground.
Despite being sober and despite the improved nature of our performance we have still lost 3 in a row and look set for a showdown with the Twickenham steamroller, so forgive me for wanting to hide behind statistics and numbers today.
I intend to look at the facts and then, like a much less attractive version of Rachel Riley, hide behind a set of numbers I think the Scotland players should be rated with. (This is my opinion and no doubt will receive some ‘healthy debate’. If you’re on twitter send your abuse to @firebeast09 . Shout out to @BalernoDad who is one of Scotland’s hardy fans, and made sure I knew his views on selection leading up to Sunday…).
Firstly I think it is key to point out that Scotland have somehow magically transformed from a fearsome defensive unit into a side with some pretty big holes in its cover. If we firstly ignore the fact that Ireland scored 3 tries to our 0, we have to look at the missed tackles.
On Sunday Scotland missed 12 tackles with a tackle completion rate of 89%. In the 6 Nations this will cost you. The biggest of these was for the opening try, which really put us at a disadvantage we would never overcome. Rory Best drew two defenders before Jamie Heaslip ghosted through a hole which should have been full of Nick De Luca who, instead of staying man-on-man, raced up into the space where he thought Heaslip would run.
NDL wasn’t the biggest criminal, though. Ross Ford’s embarrassing attempt at a tackle on Ronan O’Gara saw the slight Irishman easily hand off the hooker who has a couple of stone on him (this was before he then burst through a weak Paterson tackle attempt, over the try line, which saw the 15 sent flailing to his back. A series of events I can’t bring myself to watch, ever again).
Ford is in poor form, which saw his lineout throwing go rather awry, but he is also our worst defender in this 6N campaign having missed 6 tackles in 3 games. For a Lions player this is shameful and Scott Lawson, the first choice Gloucester 2, must now be beating down Andy Robinson’s door.
Max Evans has also missed 4 tackles in the last 3 games, but collectively thing aren’t working. For Reddan’s try Jackson flew up but only wrapped around Heaslip’s ankles and easily allowed the no. 8 to slip the ball to his scrum-half. We have missed 32 tackles this campaign which is actually only 1 less than France and 1 more than Wales, but it happens in the wrong areas rather than all over the park. Something is missing from our D (I like to call it Graeme Morrison)…
In attack we have made less clean breaks than all except Italy (we’ve made 13 to their 4) whilst making over 25 more carries than Wales and Ireland. We have also made, on average, 448m carrying ball per game, compared with Wales’ 336, Italy’s 316 and Ireland’s 310. Basically what this shows is that when we aren’t kicking the ball away (only Wales have kicked more!) we are making more yards and more carries than every other team, except England, and we are choking when we get to their 22 and we are falling off tackles in our own 22. If only the game was played between the 22’s, eh!
Of course it is not all doom and gloom. On Sunday we offloaded 13 times successfully, won 15 lineouts and stole 3 of theirs, successfully mauled against them and only gave away 4 penalties. In fact, over the whole 6N Evans and Lamont have beaten more defenders than any other player with Evans’ number a whopping 13 defenders beaten.
So how do we translate this great lineout and maul, evasive running and huge volume of carries into tries?!
With the resources we have I can only see a few solutions: Get our defensive marshal Morrison fit for the WC; let Beattie get up to match fitness before throwing him in; save the carries of Richie Gray and Lamont for when we are near the opposition line. Kellock, the front row and the back three are just going to have to do a wee bit more, even if their efforts are already colossal. It’s a cut-throat world out there.
Chris Paterson: Kicked well and kept us in the hunt, but had to deal with tearing forward onto kicks all game and never really sparked any attacks. The O’Gara incident was like watching two toddlers fight over a chocolate button. Ughhh… 6/10
Nikki Walker: Largely anonymous for most of the game as he had to turn round every two minutes to collect kicks. Ran some good lines when no forwards wanted the ball. 5/10
Nick De Luca: Missed his man for the first try and looked lively but never created any space. He and O’Driscoll cancelled each other out to make the 13 channel a bit of a non-event. 5/10
Sean Lamont: Manfully stuck to his attack and created a few tiny gaps for offloads but never looked like scoring. Physically backed his public comments up, but had to use more guns than guile with Beattie making few yards. Good tackle on Earls at the end of the first half. 6/10
Max Evans: Jinky with ball in hand but always seemed likely to get stripped by any forward he was up against. We need him, but I would very much like to see him finish off a mazy run one of these days… 5.5/10
Ruaridh Jackson: He looked nervous, but who wouldn’t be?! Kicked down the middle of the park too often but was brave in contact. Tackling isn’t a specialty for any of our Scottish 10s… 5/10
Mike Blair: I appreciated some of his snipes and offloads but when we got near the opposition’s danger zone sometimes picked the wrong pass. His box kicking was decent enough and his volume of passes was extraordinary. 6/10
Allan Jacobsen: Hard done by in the scrums but ineffectual carrying ball. He is all we have right now so gets 80mins but it would be nice to take him off once in a while… or he could just get a yellow card when he is tired. 4.5/10
Ross Ford: Pretty poor all-round. Sure let O’Brien palm you off and burn you. Even Let Cian Heally do it. Never Ronan. Dear God, never O’Gara. 3.8/10
Moray Low: Quiet one for Low. He hit his rucks and he tackled round the fringe but didn’t get through a huge amount of carries as he did a season back. 5/10
Richie Gray: Got go-forward and disrupted Ireland’s line-out. God I hope we manage his talent right, and he doesn’t burn out by 2012. 7/10
Al Kellock: Good leadership at the lineout, and hit his rucks (I’ll forgive him for that awful 3-man lineout when we were chasing the game in the dying minutes) . Carried when he had to, but made very few yards. Snazzy new haircut, too. Should encourage more patience and better ball presentation from everyone else when we get towards the oppo’s try-line. 6/10
Kelly Brown: Brilliant with ball in hand and great in defence. He is our outstanding player right now. No complaints. 8/10
John Barclay: Is the lack of competition getting to him? He seems off the pace a wee bit and is forcing passes. He just needs to make one huge hit or get one high-profile turnover against an Ashton or a Palmer to get him back on track, I reckon… 5/10
Johnnie Beattie: Not match fit, yet, and you can see it in his carries. 5/10
I won’t go through all the subs but Vernon carried well when he came on, 6/10, Parks hit a drop-goal, kicked the corners and played like he should have against Wales, 6/10, and Danielli carried frantically into brick walls and created space for Vernon, but really just proved that he is no better an option than Walker. Interchangeable? 5/10.