With no Scottish interest in the Heineken Cup to look forward to, Team Scottish Rugby Blog sat down for a natter regarding the recently passed and always dramatic RBS 6 Nations.
So, first question: was it a good Six Nations for Scotland, or not?
Gav Harper: Much much better – improvements all over the park and results to go with it. Winning is a good habit to have.
Rory Baldwin: Did we get into the habit all that much though?
Tom Macleod: I’ve come out of the tournament with mixed feelings myself. Like Gav said, nothing beats a few wins, especially back to back and third place can’t be scoffed at. But I think the poor quality of rugby this year has masked our shortcomings somewhat. We still rely on the opposition having an off day. The territory and possession stats against us in almost every game were just laughable and like England, I actually thought we got steadily worse as things went on. Our back three who started so well, we saw less of. But for the first time in a while, there are some positives to take into the summer tour.
RB: We did revert into our shells a little bit until Paris.
Brodie Smithers: Finishing third is a big step, regardless of how we did it. For the first time in years I was at a Six Nations game at Murrayfield (Italy) and was able to relax and enjoy the game with twenty minutes left to play. We were winning comfortably, throwing the ball around and looking well in control. Okay, so the Ireland game was ugly and the Welsh game boring but at least we had a go at Twickenham and in Paris. Many more positives than negatives, for once.
Christie Lester: Being pernickity, the fact that it took both Ireland and France having a major wobble for Scotland to finish third shows that there is still work to be done. But that said I think its been a good Six Nations for Scotland. Things started to come together and there is plenty to build upon going forward. My one hang up is the increasing reliance on the kicking game. I think that the games against Ireland and Wales really highlighted this for me, Scotland kept the scoreboard ticking over with Laidlaw, but there has to come a point when you need to go for the tries. In the Ireland match there were a few times when I felt Scotland should have and could have gone for tries, it would certainly have spared my hand being crushed by my friend in the dying minutes of the game. And in the Wales match, dubious reffing aside, is leaving it until the final 8 minutes before going for the try really the best decision?
RB: We’ve seen it before, and it only seems to work, well, for Wales.
Cameron Black: There’s a lot to be said for getting wins under the belt no matter how ugly they are. Wins will build confidence and confidence (hopefully) means less nerves and less silly mistakes. However, that Italy score hid a lot of problems. We capitalised on their mistakes rather than actually manufacturing something from pre-planned moves (with the exception of Matt Scott’s try). Same with the Ireland game. If Sexton had been fit we’d have been well beaten. I’m always optimistic though and it feels like there’s progress rather than it being back to the drawing board. I’m looking forward to the summer tour but want to see likes of MacArthur, Heathcote and Fusaro getting game time.
RB: Scott Johnson has overseen a definite improvement, but it could just be a bit of a new coach bounce. He’s also got to go looking for a forwards coach for the tour. Further developments to come, I would say.
What about the Heroes and Villains of the piece?
Alan Thomas Dymock: With the exception of Hoggy no one shone out as such, because when Scotland were good it was because of synergy. The collective was good. Clicking, the team allowed players to slide into play. Maitland was able to look for work; Laidlaw could choose his box-target; Scott could relax into an impressive game; Hamilton and Beattie were fresh enough for a jump/make a dart. That being said, the one constant was Kelly Brown. If he ever wanted to leave his body to science there wouldn’t be enough left to fill a dog-litter bag. Smashed himself to pieces for the cause.
BS: The sheer work rate of Kelly Brown was immense and Jim Hamilton was really important both in the loose and particularly in the line-out. Others who played better than expected when called upon were Geoff Cross and Dougie Hall. Alan is right though, it was a collective effort. I still don’t think Johnny Beattie was as good as everyone is making out either but on whole the pack did their job well.
CB: I disagree about Beattie. Thought his work at the base of the scrum and offloading was excellent. He was let down by those handling errors against France but overall I thought he offered more than, say, Denton.
GH: I’d agree with Cameron re: Beattie – thought he was close to world class at times.
CB: Some boot on the lad too!
TM: I’ll jump on the Kelly Brown bandwagon too but we need more stars in the pack. As the other guys have said, it’s a collective at the moment.
BS: As for the backs I thought they were all pretty good at times but again Greig Laidlaw was our key man. Sean Maitland looks a different class when given the opportunity and it was encouraging to see positives from both Rhauridh Jackson and Duncan Weir at different times.
CB: There was a cartoon in the 90s called Toxic Crusader where Toxic waste caused some people and things to merge together and I sort of wish we could do that with Weir and Jackson. If you could take Weir’s kicking and defence and combine it with Jackson’s eye for an interception and pass you’d have a fearsome number 10 but then part of me wonders if that’s not just Tom Heathcote?
GH: I thought Matt Scott really came into his own and showed he offers us something we’ve lacked for a long time – a ball-playing 12 who can not only make his tackles and carry well, but put others into space.
TM: It goes without saying almost that we would have lost against Ireland and more embarrassingly of course against Wales if not for Laidlaw who while not being a flashy player has proved 9 is where he belongs and is invaluable for points. Again Maitland impressed for me despite fading due to lack of opportunity, and Matt Scott (who I’m not the biggest fan of) really stood up against the French in particular.
RB: I’ve been a big fan of Scott at club level but he had a poor Autumn. He really had some good solid games in the 6N though, which pleases me.
CB: I thought Sean Maitland was great in defence and attack. He’s more rounded than Visser and was constantly looking for work around the park.
RB: What about the villains? Are we going to let rip on the refereeing? Joubert destroyed that Wales game as a spectacle. We all thought Matey Walsh was having a decent game in that last one but the England fans would disagree.
CB: The scrum is the villain. Again. It’s a complete mess and it’s ruining the game. There’s plenty of people moaning about it but few putting forward genuine solutions. I’ve been to a League match and uncontested scrums are entirely pointless but you get the sense that’s where we’re headed. Personally I’d take away the contact and have the referee bring the front rows together, allow the drive and bring back hooking.
RB: I think Brian Moore would agree with you there.
CB: And my brother! Speak to props and they want the engagement. Speak to hookers: they want to hook. Interesting chat on BBC Sportsound podcast the other day about hooking channels. Love to know if international forwards coaches discuss hooking channels at all. I’m not even sure Ross Ford would know how to given he started in the back row!
AD: The referees have certainly come in for flak – amazing its only ever a one-way street with fans and the more vocal pundits – but Joubert was poor. He seemed to decide a dominant pack early and and only a handful if times did he reset or interpret the messy collision, angles or binds on their merits. That is rare and hopefully a blip for a ref who will rule over a Lions test this summer. Mind you, in an arm wrestle Wales would have shaded the contest anyway. The scrum is something that can grow and hopefully will during summer tour.
GH: Ronan O’Gara and Paddy Jackson had shocking tournaments and the former probably sealed his own international retirement with that cross kick against us. Declan Kidney made some weird decisions in team selection, as did the Philippe St Andre – Fofana is a world class centre and they wasted him on the wing.
RB: Kidney has paid for his errors now.
AD: The BBC, for jinxing the tournament by proclaiming it “the best ever tournament ever…better than sex and bacon rolls combined” after one round. Cue a few weeks of paint drying and grass growing
We’ll cover this again probably – but will we see any/many Scottish Lions?
GH: We could see many. I spoke with Mossy who predicted as many as 11 (not going to name them all) but I’d expect maybe four or five…
RB: And the man doesn’t even drink! Kelly Brown has to be in the party, surely.
CB: Yes I think there will be some, but not the right ones. Gray, Visser and Hogg will definitely be on the plane. Hogg will work but I’m starting to think Gray might be a bit of a one trick pony and Visser’s defence is better but still suspect. Hamilton, Grant, Maitland and Scott, for me, would be a offer more against Australia and are on a par with others in contention
RB: I agree that if anyone goes it’ll be from that group. Hard to say what Gatland will do. He loves the Welsh, but they haven’t had much luck against Australia of late. Do you think Gray gets back from injury in time?
CB: Aye – Gatland needs to pick a side that will beat Australia rather than picking a team of the best players on the Home Nations. Last I heard Gray was on course to return for the tour.
RB: Here’s hoping we get more than last time, at any rate.