Humans are fairly simple creatures. If you compliment someone enough they will believe what you tell them.
There is an element of “you’re only kidding yourself” with this approach and it seems that we are trying to do the same thing in Scotland with our rugby. Scotland defeated the 12th best team in the World and suddenly people were heralding the rise of a new stand-off and the way we could build on ‘performance’.
In reality Scotland had a very poor 6 Nations in a competition many pundits said was of a poorer standard than bygone Championships. Claiming that Scotland played brilliantly against Italy is an oversight and to then say that we improved throughout is, in my opinion, wrong. Scotland won, yes, but they leaked a soft try and still looked vulnerable. England were the better team when they won and in both games, at Twickenham and against Italy at home, we were two perfect cover tackles away from humiliation and a poor performance at home. We shouldn’t get caught up in papering over the cracks.
So why am I still talking about the 6 Nations?
As a minor point I think I am doing it to highlight how much work must be done in order to defeat England on the 1st of October in Auckland. Our preparations should really start in earnest as soon as possible. Glasgow and Edinburgh would probably want the season to end soon, anyway.
I think the main reason I am alerting us to the huge misgivings of our 6 Nations, though, is to look at the long-term shape of our national team.
Scotland got the win we were desperate for but we saw some huge issues with our team. Paterson came in and did a great job at full-back, making side-on tackles from far away, kicking points (with the exception of that horror, squelching punt with his first kick against Italy) and offering a second option at first-receiver. Paterson, however, should be playing in his last World Cup and we need a long-term solution.
This same problem appears to be evident in our centres and with our front-row. Our new generations coming up don’t get a look in domestically, and so aren’t good enough internationally. Because of this Euan Murray got drafted back in instead of letting Moray Low continue to get International game-time and experience, despite being abysmal in the games he did play. The same, in fact, goes for Ross Ford who had a woeful championship but retained his place.
Who are the youngsters who could take these places?
If the two pro sides continue to be as ‘competitive’ as they are now then we must find some other way of developing players. Results mean more to the two head-coaches (whoever they may be next season) than moulding players for Scotland, 4 years from now.
Richie Vernon made the right choice leaving Glasgow to challenge himself, experience more physicality every week and try to evolve his game for a new competition. That is how a player can become more rounded and learn new skills or strengths. Ross Ford, on the other hand, opted for comfort and familiarity rather than challenging himself. Other promising talents will be kept on for pittance and asked to perform specific tasks in varying positions rather than to develop their own game, like the evolving Fraser McKenzie.
With the finances and squads at Edinburgh and Glasgow it seems more and more players may choose to go down south to develop rather than waiting for the SRU, as people have always done. In a global economy it is good to see young players looking past the Murrayfield coaches and seeking their own development. This, despite seeing players avoid our pro teams (who can miss talent or sometimes mishandle them, anyway), will be good for us nationally even if it is not at Magners League level.
As I type three English Premiership teams are fighting for the signature of heralded Scottish full-back come centre, Steve McColl. McColl is a Scotland A cap who is playing in the play-offs for Doncaster Knights and is rumoured to be wanted by Wasps, Leeds and Sale.
Talented Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson is having a trial with Premiership side Sale.
Some other promising club players are in talks with agents about moves out from under the shadow of the SRU.
It is great to see players taking it upon themselves to seek growth. Development contracts at pro-teams in Scotland seem to be given out to players by a panel rather than whether a coach thinks they can develop them. Players moving first (like French resident Fraser Gillies) can give them opportunities that would be closed off here. Players moving later, even when established, is great to see.
Of course it doesn’t always work out. We only have to look at Paterson at Gloucester to see that. Risk, nonetheless, is a must if you are to be a successful sportsman.
I would love to see more Scotsmen take risks.