As Nick De Luca pointed out at the Scotland team announcement on Tuesday, Scotland are still “0 from 3”.
There are positives coming out of the display against France and the sheer volume of work that Scotland went through was impressive. Two nice tries were scored. We could blow the dust off of the box labelled ‘Progress’ once again.
However, now Robinson has steeped pressure on to his team. It has come from nothing he has said. In fact in all of the build-up, mentioned in my earlier piece on the announcement, he had been effusive in praising the good players within his side, and dismissive of any talk of glitches in his defensive system.
No. What created the pressure were his actions. He named a completely unchanged pack and a back-line with one solitary swap. He dropped his in-form deputy stand-off for one with caps in the double figures. He has not brought in the vastly experienced Euan Murray.
It will give his team confidence, no doubt, but with face value attributed to this move his side now need to do something.
There have been no grand changes. Scotland, at the very least, have to be within three points of Ireland as the game draws to a close, or the hard work will be undone. Calls of progression, progression, progression can be swept away as political spin if Scotland do not progress in terms of points on the board and points on the championship table.
This, perhaps, is a good thing. Ireland are weakened and they have had a lot less rest than Scotland. That entrusted pack cannot be relieved, but instead must tear into their task. Robinson has made it abundantly clear that the breakdown is the key. He has called Ireland’s back-row ‘World Class’. He has proclaimed any change for O’Connell as irrelevant because of their strength of squad.
With this cute political tactic Robinson has lit a fire under his forwards. This jargon; this ‘Choke Tackle’, is just a bit of misdirection. No special offensive tactics have to be used against it. A good ball carry will be rewarded, a poor one punished. Rucking, as with any 6 Nations game, must be top drawer.
Robinson is exercising misdirection here. The scrummage will be hard work and the lineout, which has been supremely impressive, must maintain. He wants to ensure that O’Brien, Heaslip and Ferris do not run at the likes of Jones and Laidlaw. So he has called them out. He has effectively said ‘my back-row is better than yours’. He wants a reaction. From both sides. He wants them running at each other.
If this does work then there is an opportunity.
Well rested, comfortable and confident the Scottish backs have a chance against Ireland’s centres. Neither played particularly well against France and defensively they can be got at. De Luca has risen again, but his place at 13 is to draw in Earls and then have Hogg and Sean Lamont speeding into the line past him. Particularly if Earls is lined up alongside Trimble in first phase, expect a pop to a blind winger coming short.
Scotland stand a chance in this game if they tie up the back-row and bypass the Irish back three. Lineout attack therefore becomes hugely significant. Ford must best Best. Rennie must strip O’Brien and Lamont must clatter past Earls. These are the places where Scotland can win on Saturday.
Scotland have made a big issue about how fit they are, but with all their ball they must score. They started on the right path against France. Now they must be ruthless with a weary Irish team that has lost personnel. The tactics must be spot on and they must make their individual tackles. They must be calculating.
If they get the slightest edge the Aviva can be silenced. Here’s hoping that Robinson’s plans work and his side play with the confidence they have displayed in the days before the event. Here’s hoping for more progress. Tangible progress.