Playing Past the Present

With the EMC tests looming and the daily press releases telling us how our players are “harder, faster, stronger” than ever before whilst the players assure us the group has never been so tight-knit, I must ask: how will the warm up games pan out?

The reason I ask this is that everything in training, we have been told, is geared towards rugby specifics.

Unlike 2007, when I witnessed some of the preparations first hand, the team isn’t focussed on gaining as much size as they can in a short turnaround and hoping to bludgeon all opposition (except NZ).

That year I saw the team working to extreme levels, as no doubt the team will be now, but Mark Bitcon had the players shredding fat through Atkins diets and trying to amass as much muscle as possible. If we were honest a lot of the guys, the forwards in particular, looked like they would struggle to bring their hands close enough together to catch a ball, let alone play with it.

Of course I am attempting to be glib but the reality is that many of the forwards were not there to play rugby. In 2007, rugby was not the plan. This was demonstrated in the reversion to an Argentinian-style up-and-under game plan whenever the pressure came on. I’ll never forget how lucky we were that Troncon saved our bacon against Italy when he foolishly kicked the ball away as the Azzurri searched for a winning score. Italy only got so close because we were playing such dull, one-dimensional rugby.

Of course back then this was OK, because the power being generated and the size we inflated ourselves to was enough to see us past the likes of Romania and Italy, as well as giving Argentina a run for their money.

Now, though, we are looking for more.

That preparation ensured us our quarter final and we even got away with rolling over against the All Blacks. In 2011, however, we face off against an Argentina team that we beat on their turf in 2010 by matching their physicality, but also by being more clinical; being patient. Can we prepare to do the same whilst also preparing to offload and, crucially, score tries against the Auld Enemy?

It appears that Robinson has decided that the only way we can beat these teams Down Under is to run against them.

Sets of 50 100m sprints; high paced rucking drills; working with the ball after draining rowing and weights sessions. It looks very much like Scotland want to play at a pace and at a volume that we rarely see with a sterile kicking game. Sure, I am making an assumption but it is a positive one and one I hope will manifest itself in games.

Which brings me to the EMC tests.

Such fast-paced rucks, offloads and waves of runners would be the key to beating England if the defence was solid. Such a style of play (which is traditionally the Scottish way of playing, anyway) twinned with a kicking game could very easily dispatch the ageing Argentines, regardless of what the IRB rankings say. Romania could be ground to dust and Georgia passed around, if we are well versed at this style by then.

My fear is that the EMC tests could slow this process down. Playing against Ireland and Italy could be a negative for our overall RWC plan if we focus on their teams and how to play them, rather than preparing the game plan that could see us past England and Argentina.

Particularly against Ireland we cannot get carried away with kicking because we are not completely capable of driving over a well-drilled England lineout. Both teams give away a lot of penalties, at least they did in the 6N (52 for England and 48 for Ireland). Kick points when you can, but look to build offloads into everything, like set scrum moves. Lineouts should be as quick as possible, rather than trying to drive through a pack, because Ireland may be more pliant than England in that department but they are better at stealing ball. Ireland are also more likely to give away penalties in our half. England would want us to play out of our own 22, for example, so work on retaining possession there against the Irish.

Italy will possibly be a distraction. Pumped up from the gym the forwards may want to take the Italian pack on. The backs may want to unleash runners into the phases when we should be kicking, purely because Italy are notoriously loose in defence outside 13 and after 5 phases. Would we do this against Argentina? No, so don’t do it against Italy.

The squad may be buzzing after their camp, and the EMC tests may actually be an experiment for certain bolters or back-ups. I doubt it. Focus that buzz on playing number 5 and number 8 in the World, because they can define our World Cup.

Big weights and an afternoon on the range are great, as long as we’re aiming at the Argies and St. George.

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Dundonian Alan has played rugby all over the world for various teams including Dundee High School, Heriot's and the Scottish Club International. Now writing from London he covers all issues international and unreported.

One comment on “Playing Past the Present

  1. Rory on

    Having almost had a heart attack during that Italy game (mostly due to roughness from the night before) I can testify I have no wish to experience that again, especially against England! I think if Scotland do play a fast, hard offloading game it will be too much for Romania and Georgia and should be for Argentina too. But if they get drawn into quagmire type games some squeaky bum moments could be in store.

    I agree, they should play “England” and “Argentina” in the tests, and ignore the colour of the shirts against them and probably the result too. For those ones, results would breed confidence but so would a well executed game plan even if not quite right for the opposition…

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