So. 6 Nations times rumbles round again, swept in on the back of gale force winds and predictions of glory (whatever that may actually be) from all 6 corners of the tournament. For me the tournament will be viewed from the comfort of my sofa and with only the dulcet tones of Brian Moore and Jonathan Davies to raise my blood pressure. Still, despite being ticket-less for the first time in living memory the excitement still builds as the tournament approaches.
The opening weekend always starts the same: France select a team that is in many aspects random, the Welsh hearts are full of hope, Ireland sit quietly on the sidelines, Italy talk of a breakthrough season and the English media whip up a frenzy and install themselves as favourites. For us Scottish fans it often the same feeling that this year will be our year, we have good players and didn’t do too bad in the Autumn Internationals. Married to the hope is the sneaking suspicion that crushing disappointed is only 80 minutes away, ready to provide the proverbial kick in the guts. Truly of all the 6 Nations, Scotland are the most schizophrenic!
So, how will Scotland do? Looking at the media provides no guide – for every positive there is a negative. Yes, Scotland are the ‘form’ team in the tournament but do they have the guile to cross the whitewash enough to trouble the the top of the table? 3 winnable home games are countered by 2 away trips to France and England provide significant challenges.
It’s fair to say Scotland are the form team. Results against South Africa and Samoa in the Autumn, off the back of 3 away wins (Ireland, 2 x Argentina) see a Scotland squad full of confidence. They can beat the big boys – sometimes. However the crushing defeat to New Zealand will be in the back of the mind, particularly when they travel to face France and England. France and England though are no New Zealand and the players will be well served if they remember that – both France and England are entirely beatable.
As ever the tone of Scotland’s tournament may well be set by how they perform in the first game against France. A win would be magnificent but even a good performance that pushes the French would set a belief in the players that they are active participants in the tournament and not just focused on avoiding wooden spoon ignominy. The talk from the Scotland dressing room is of the need to match up to the French – toe-to-toe – and force them to play the game Scotland want. For this to succeed Andy Robinson’s men will need to be mentally tuned in from kick off – they need to be first to set the tone, so first big tackle, first line-out turnover, first to draw a a penalty, first to set a maul that drives forward, the first to make a line break, the first to push the scrum. That’s a lot of firsts but if Scotland have a realistic chance of forcing the French onto the back foot they need to compete at all phases of the game – and win the majority.
For the rest of the tournament who knows, glory may await just around the corner – we’re certainly due a good 6 Nations. Or, as before, will the optimism and hope fade away after the first game and the tournament run its course without Scotland challenging? It’ll be fun finding out (even from the Armchair) however what Scotland need to do is continue to develop and progress. The World Cup is only 7 months away and Scotland need to continue to develop their pool of players, build confidence and, as so often vital in successful teams, having positive momentum. It would be nice to think that 7 months from now Scotland go to New Zealand still as the form side in the Northern Hemisphere!
As traditions dictates here are my predictions for the weekend:
Head: Scotland rattle the French early on, and draw penalties to give them a half time lead. France rally in the second half and Scotland’s inability to score tries again cost them victory. France to win by less than 7.
Heart:Scotland rattle the French early on, line breaks actually lead to tries and Scotland have a commanding first half lead. French rally second half but as time ticks down and France press in search of parity Scotland break and score a decisive score. Scotland win by 6.
Arse: Scotland are slow to start and immediately on the back foot. Missed tackles and and inability to maintain possession in the French half mean France have a commanding half time lead. France take the foot off the gas but Scotland remain ineffective and the game fades into kicks for territory and a cockerel on the pitch providing the only entertainment. France win by 10+ points.