England And Scotland: Pt 2

In an effort to show a genuine response from a genuine guy, I have not altered this in any way. This is an email I got from Berni Stortoni at the start of the week:

“Hi Alan,
Well now everyone in Argentina is very happy with the team. The effort that the players did it during the game was excellent.
I think Scotland lost the chance to close the game in the first 20′ in the second half.
Now I hope Scotland beat England!!!!”

In four sentences this ex-Warrior has summed up what happened on Sunday. Scotland missed their chance to put themselves straight through to the Quarter Finals against a hard working but unglamorous South American side. Now we all live in hope.

Despite the incessant reports of what Scotland need to do; to rely on; to expect, we have a clear objective. An objective perhaps clearer that any we have had during this World Cup campaign. We need to beat the Auld Enemy by a minimum of 8 points.

Sure we could hope Georgia pull one out of the fire and smoke an Argentinean side that is bruised and held together at the seams by sticky tape and Felipe Contepomi’s force of will. We could hope that Gorgodze continues his devastating rampage in this tournament and takes out Contepomi, Lobbe and Ledesma. He won’t, though, and I doubt we can rely on results elsewhere. Scotland need to stick to the plan. Focus on our objective.

There are many possible permutations in this pool, but the intention must be made clear. The team Robinson has picked certainly has an air of ‘Last Chance Roll’ about it, but that last chance lasts 80minutes. The team cannot worry itself with notions of blistering bonus tries, because we forget what is at hand. A game of phases.

In front of Scotland strides an England team naming its most dynamic back-row available, as well as Courtney Lawes. In the backs they have the much hyped, but frustratingly potent wildcard, Manu Tuilagi. Behind him there is a back-three that bookmakers are struggling to lengthen in odds to score. This team is full of direct, assertive and varied runners.

Strangely, though, to England’s detriment the men manning their rudders, Wilkinson and Thompson, are selected again despite struggling to recapture the spirit of ’03. Martin Johnson does not underestimate their talismanic properties, but he is certain to use Flood and Hartley in the last 3rd/4er of the game. He will leave nothing to chance.

Scotland, on the other hand, are banking on chance.

Against Argentina we lost a game at the death. Our clunking control was bypassed by a dancing full-back, and we lost it for the end minutes. We must recapture that control –something I am now sure Ruaridh Jackson is capable of –and let our own runners run…away from contact areas.

The team we have picked is full of running, too. The selections of Vernon, Lamont at 12 and Danielli and Evans means that we could counter attack at the fringes. It also offers offload runners at staggered positions on the pitch. Defensively, too, it has more of a feel of Scrammblers (although there will be a programmed defender, probably Strokosch or Barclay, who will filter in behind Lamont who will have licence to fly at Tuilagi or Tindall).

Don’t misinterpret, please. The defence will be one of pressure and constant waves between the 15m lines. This represents the biggest game in almost all of these players’ lives. The tackling will be robust and the bodies sacrificed. It is just that with Vernon, Barclay and Strokosch, Danielli, Evans, Paterson and Lamont we look set fair to retreat in haste should England spring a half-break. Staging a shutout, for the objective.

Up front Strokosh, Gray, Kellock, Ford and Murray will be expected to chew dirt, make tackles and spoil play. They will be made to man the collisions as if Johnson himself was barking orders through a bullhorn at the back of each contact. Be alert, be physical.

The good thing is that now, once any permutations are forgotten and the build-up work ignored we are still just left with that recognition: it is all or nothing. Remember the objective, remember the roles. Remember the hits.

Remember the objective.

After this game a lot of analysis may come down to how Kellock fared against a ferocious and rested Lawes. Credence may be paid to how Blair moved with Youngs. Experts may marvel at the outcome of Lamont’s gambling shots out of the defensive line. We may all rue not setting out to find a bonus point against Georgia. Should Rory Lamont have had more time on the pitch? Speculation will happen immediately after the game.

Whatever the lines and whatever the outcome, however, Scotland will still have offered an answer to a simple question about hope and a need for victory.

Did we deliver on the Objective?

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