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What We Learnt From The Romans

Sean Lamont - pic © Al Ross
Sean Lamont - pic © Al Ross

Here are a few things that Scotland should have learned from their victory over Italy yesterday that can provide a basic platform for the rest of the tournament. To be honest, they should know this as these are basic tenets of rugby. And have been for quite some time.

1) Fix the set-piece and the rest is made easier

The scrum was a mess until Cross came on, but the lineout was immaculate and stole 2 opposition chances. Gray, Hamilton and Lawson all played the full 80 minutes and should be rewarded with their places against France. If they could secure scrum ball too the backline will get more chances to attack. Tighthead is a worry but Scotland were a lot better with Cross playing and despite his lack of game time should be given the start against France who are traditionally a strong scrummaging side but looked poor against Wales. We have to play both of those packs still in the tournament so time to bed in the new look front row now.

2) Move it out quicker

Quicker delivery from the base of the scrum and ruck helps 10-15 immeasurably. Cusiter sped up the game when he came on and combined with tiring Italians, suddenly Scott and Dunbar were finding holes everywhere. In my view he should start against France to provide this impetus from the start, although it is unlikely Johnson will drop another captain. On the flip side when the ball was static and further delayed by Laidlaw crabbing sideways with a solid defensive line ready and waiting, even players with quick feet like Stuart Hogg were unable to find any space and Scotland moved backwards.

3) Hold on to the ball and you can do stuff with it

Weir kicked almost nothing until he was playing for territory late in the game. By that point the momentum was with Scotland and his kicks were pinpoint accurate. There was very little ping-pong throughout the game, and small chips were only taken when they were on. The only standout exception was Seymour’s kick ahead early in the game where you would have liked him to back himself. The negative kicking tactics that we saw against England that failed so miserably were gone, and with them the sight of back three players running back counter-attacking ball at tiring Scottish backs. Instead, Lamont and Hogg were able to do the attacking in greater space.

4) The back row blend isn’t quite right yet

Beattie brought back the desired swashbuckling and offloading and is probably good for his place at 8. Fusaro too played very well during his time on the pitch and has continued to show the benefits of having someone keen to scrabble about in the rucks so at this stage I don’t think replacing him with either Rennie or Barclay would be prudent.

But I still feel we could get more at 6, although Wilson probably had his best game so far of his time there against Italy. Either Brown or Denton could fit in there and the other offer impact from the bench. Denton in particular might profit from the chance to run hard at tired defenders so is probably best situated there.

5) Stop your opponents from coming back at you

Scotland won, but it still came down the last kick from Weir to win it. They scored two good tries but let Italy straight back in after the second for a try of their own. Jubilation after a score can soon turn to misery as lapses in discipline and concentration continue to cost Scotland. If they can get these under control, and take their scoring chances – off a stable platform there are the players to do this in Dunbar, Hogg and Scott (and Maitland to come) – then the scoreboard gaps will be a lot harder for the opposition to close and the nerves will be less for Scotland in closing the game out.

The performance against Italy was not too ambitious and should provide a solid base-level for Scotland performances going forward at least until Vern Cotter arrives and the intent should be notched up a bit.

Forget these lessons, and Scotland will slip back to the doldrums once again.

Here’s the team I would pick to face France, fitness permitting:
Possible Scotland XV: 15 Hogg, 14 Seymour, 13 Dunbar, 12 Scott, 11 Lamont, 10 Weir, 9 Cusiter (c); 1 Grant, 2 Lawson, 3 Cross, 4 Gray, 5 Hamilton, 6 Brown, 7 Fusaro, 8 Beattie.
Bench: Dickinson, McArthur, Welsh, Swinson/J Gray, Denton, Laidlaw, Taylor, Evans

23 Responses

  1. Firstly, #ingirthwetrust. There were a number of bloggers who chastised the mention of girth being in an international 23 given his game time for Edinburgh. His impact in the scrum spoke volumes yesterday. If Low had been kept on for the traditional 60 mins yesterday we would have lost. Another penalty or two at the scrum and he would have been binned. Game over after that. Well done Girth. Shoe in for the French. And, that leg drive in a couple of his marauding runs. Just wow. Just don’t pass it to him when he isn’t expecting the ball.

    I’m not quite sure why Rennie is being touted as being brought back in. For me that is everything that is wrong with scottish rugby. Replacing someone who has earned a shot, has played well but because a golden boy has played 3, maybe 4 games for an English championship side cos he can’t get a game for Edinburgh people call for his inclusion. I note that this article has said not to do that, however I have read this a number of places and think that is a huge disservice to Fusaro who has played well in the role and also a further disrespect to Grant who should have been included in the squad ahead of Rennie in the first place. Barclay isn’t even in the squad, he’s not even a consideration. The only spot on the back row that needs juggled is at 6. Denton or Brown needs in there as Wilson is not up to that role. If Denton comes off the bench he needs to slot in there and not at 8 as his ball skills there are questionable.

    Id most certainly pick Cusiter over Laidlaw. Laidlaws service is far slower and Cus offers far more from an attacking perspective. We don’t need Laidlaws boot when Weir is in the team. Big improvement from England but the fact Johnson is still going upstairs is a huge concern.

    #INGIRTHWETRUST

    1. Cross was indeed fantastic when he came on. If SJ sticks to his pick on form mantra, he’s nailed on for the French game.

  2. I like your team selection for the French game but am wondering about Brown at No.6! Was there a physical altercation between Johnson & Brown after the Irish debacle and if so will Johnson ever select him again?

  3. Re Ballenmuir, if you are correct about the SJ / Brown situation, SJ should grow up and put OUR country ahead of HIS ego!

  4. Yes great improvement. Our best 6 is Kelly Brown, he should play there and, if he comes back, he would be captain. I don’t know what SJ’s problem is? Why did he start the season by saying KB wont be considered in his own position? Madness!!!

    Jim Hamilton had a better game but he is still a yellow card/penalty liability, elsewhere in these blogs his failure to support Low by body position has been highlighted and his lack of pitch nous! he needs to go, Swinson or Jonny in.

    Wholly agree re Laidlaw, I wouldn’t even have him on the bench! Nice to see Welsh appear on your 23 selection, he is a class above Low! Moreover, Weir had a strong game, maybe he can get more confidence from that and become international class.

    Just wish we could start the 6N again!

  5. My thoughts:

    1. Great result but just one of many required steps in the right direction.

    2. Forward performance was much better Thoughts are:
    ; Never liked Lawson but he can win me over if he plays like that again
    : Cross was revelation and well done to him with so little match time
    : Time to put confidence in a future second row such as junior Gray or Swinson. Hamilton a good servant but time to stand down.
    : For positions that we seem to have the most candidates, it is an enigma that it is not quite there in the back row.

    3/ Backs:
    : Laidlaw is not an international scrum half. He does take the extra steps and his pass is lobbed. Cusiter made a huge difference. Rumour is that SRU will not let Edinburgh play Laidlaw at stand off but if he has any international future at all it is at this position.
    : Well done Weir for the kick . His confidence can only grow and Cusiter can help. Still think he is only an interim but the next level need to push forward.
    : For once in a long time I think we have a promising centre partnership.
    : Not sure about wings . Nobody did anything wrong yesterday and Visser has yet to return.
    : Hogg most exciting player but needs to watch his temperament. Remember the New Year Edin Glas game!

    Overall good to get a win but we need to push on further . Last 2 games are not easy but at least we seem to be regaining our pride.

  6. We won and deserved to, just,but what exactly did we learn? The scrum was a mess but not all of that was down to Low, Hamilton was conspicuous by his absence in the shove and whilst Walsh was happy to ping Low for pushing down on their props arm why did he allow the same loose-head to grab a handful of Low’s jersey pulling him down. Cross came on with half time approaching and Italy scored from the first scrum after he came on, the Italian coach then took off the front row in its entirety so the much vaunted Cross was left for the vast majority of his time on the pitch up against the second choice front row. Swinson is a better bet than Hamilton as he sticks to his job. Denton is an impact player for the last 20 minutes max, Beattie showed the way an 8 should play and must start. Cusiter is more robust and gives quicker ball which Weir needs if he is to be allowed to boss the line and set it free to run because Dunbar and Scott look very dangerous when put into space and down the proper channels. The players dug in and got the win and here is hoping we can give the French and Welsh a fright.

  7. I think come the world cup, the players are there. The doom and gloom had been caused by the selection and the game plan, both obviously a result of the coaching. So hopefully, cotter will not adopt anything left behind by johnson. Coaches, selection policy, grudges with certain players all forgotten and start fresh.
    With that said, the squad i feel should be:
    1. Grant, Dickinson
    2. Mcarthur, lawson, ford
    3. Cusack, nel, cross/murray- here i think we should adopt something similar to england, cusack is a great scrummager and nel is a great player in the loose with a broken field, similar to vunipola and corbisiero.

    4/5. Again, something similar to england should be adopted: the gray brothers are both very athletic, like lawes and launchbury, swinson and gilchrist are both physical, old fashioned locks who do their jobs.

    6. Brown, Stroker, Harley: how wilson gets picked at 6 before any of these players is a farce considering he isnt even first choice 8 at glasgow, let alone a 6.
    7. Rennie, Fusaro, Barclay- we shouldnt adopt a english plan here because a natural 7 gives so much more than another tackler.
    8. Beattie, Denton, Josh Strauss, Wilson.

    9. Cusiter, pyrgos, one of the younger players such as murdo mcandrew, kennedy, hart or hidalgo-clyne, one is bound to reach their potential and they should all get game time before the world cup
    10. The only reason that laidlaw is in the team is due to him being our goal-kicker, but with my selection of heathcote at 10, he wont be needed. I think heathcote is a similar player to owen farrel, he isnt the most exciting player, but he is consistent and has good distribution. Hopefully next season he either goes to edinburgh or gets regular game time somewhere. Tonks and weir would be my backup.

    11. Visser, Lamont, Fife
    12. Scott, Horne, Dunbar
    13. Dunbar, Taylor, Bennett, Grove
    14. Maitland, Seymour, Evans
    15. Hogg, Cuthbert, Murchie, Tonks

    With that backline, we can beat anyone. The forwards should be balanced, have impact from the bench and overall give the platform to the halfbacks to give quick ball to the exciting backline. The kicking game would be good with heatchote accurate and cusiter good too.
    Obviously there are a few: cusack, nel, strauss who would all be qualified through residency laws, but until the laws change, we should still pick these players. Personally, i feel that residency rules are better than finding a player with a scottish granny somewhere, because the players have shown a will to plsy for scotland and have made a three or four yesr commitment to come and play here.

    But back to the present, I’ll be at both murrayfield and the millenium for the final two games, hoping that the clowns in charge get something right and give us a reason to cheer and hold our heads high. If not, im sure beer will do that anyway.

  8. I think we all know that the current squad of players is the strongest it’s been in a decade. That’s what’s been so frustrating with the coaching set up. The problem of youth very much remains with the u21 losing to Italy.

    Poistives: the relief of the players showed there was a serious lack of confidence/ belief in the squad but that they were together. Strong center partnership. Lineout working. Cross proving he should start, have to give credit to sj for bold timing with the substitution.

    Negatives: Laidlaws speed of delivery and crabbing. To often being static when taking the ball in attack and therefore getting tackled easily behind the gain line.

    As most say I hope for changes at 3, 5, 6 and 9.

  9. having decried the team 2 weeks ago and called for Mr. Johnson’s head, I now see a basis for the future. The goal must be to build the team around R.Gray,Hamilton, Beattie, Dunbar, Lamont and – dare I say it, Weir.
    Ok, he won the match for us ( thanks also to Cusiter’s bullet pass) but his speed going forward and his low centre of gravity was crucial in our victory – which incidentally was totally deserved and much better than last year’s victory. Italy expected to win and miraculously came up against a better team. How wonderful it was to be in the stadium in Rome for this game!

  10. Well done Scotland. It was a joy to watch you in Rome this weekend after the horrific game against England. Great perseverance, tenacity and teamwork. Proud to be Scottish! Well done boys!

  11. YYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. The iportance of one substitution. We always believed in you. No one needs to talk about lack of game time when the scrumming prowess and natural disaster inducing leg drives are so prevelant for all to see. A masterclasee by our favourite player. Well done Girth. He must now start for the French game.

    Also good to see the forwards winning set piece in general and finally giving us a glimpse of a backline able to score tries. Mor eof the same please. #ingirthwetrust

  12. I’m completely in agreement with you, “non-rugby expert”. Rome may represent a real breakthrough. So much of sporting success depends on collective (i.e. team) and individual psychology and Saturday’s tries, both team efforts but brilliantly finished by an individual, demenstrated that we have the players to do great things.
    Many of the blogs reveal a startling fickleness amongst Scotland’s support. Not so long ago I read criticism of Cusiter’s (alleged) tendency to take a step or two before delivery. Now his speed of pass is being praised whereas the same criticism is being levelled at Laidlaw! In fact I don’t think either of them can match the speed and accuracy of immediate passing from ruck-/scrum-base of some other international scrum-halves. A simple, low-tech but effective drill for developing this kind of whip-pass is a vertical table-top with balls fed right next to it to minimise back-swing in the pass.
    Regarding future selection, I would like to see the Gray brothers together in the engine-room and a starting back-row of 6. Denton 7.Fusaro and 8.Beattie, though Wilson performed creditably against Italy and should be given time to develop as a test player. Cross also seemed to do very well at loose-head in the Italy game.
    Let’s build on the many positives of Saturday’s test. Finally, well done Scott Johnson!

  13. I’m less concerned about the U20 loss than some. We have a much smaller player pool than many nations and this will be felt particularly strongly at youth level – a larger pool will mean less variance in the level of talent produced. The key with youth development when you have a smaller player pool is not, however, on quantity; it is very much a game of quality. Although it doesn’t hurt to have a successful youth team, with the smaller player pool we have, the onus is on bringing through a few outstanding youth players each year who are capable of playing for the full squad rather than having a squad full of average players not able to make the step up. If you look through recent youth squads, the SRU have (whisper it) actually been relatively successful at this (Hogg, Scott, Dunbar, both Grays etc.). The key is bringing sufficient numbers through each year, and in the correct positions, to replace those who are retiring/injured.

  14. Sorry! I should’ve checked my spelling: “demenstrated” = “demonstrated”. Saturday also demonstrated that we have a good bench to refresh the team at critical junctures of the game — and Johnson used it well.

  15. Line speed! Like last year the guys were up and hitting the Italians behind the gain line. This caused panic and mistakes just as England and Ireland did. God knows what was said at half time but the guys looked like a different outift. With the amount of handling errors the Italians gave up we could have put the game away had only the scrum been solid. That said the Italian scrum is always very strong.
    Line out worked. (British Lion back in the pack….). A bit of ambition (Laidlaw going for the corner not the posts, going through the phases and looking for the gaps rather than forcing one and more importantly a bit of belief in the dying minutes.
    The lads need to replicate that attitude against the French. If they can get up and into the French faces and be quick off the line. If they can shutdown Basterau and Fofana quickly and not miss the first tackle, we may begin to see some very Gallic shrugs and mistakes.

  16. Just because Cusiter is faster than Laidlaw at the base of the ruck (which he undoubtedly is) does not make him fast enough.

    Just because Cross was significantly better than Low (would it have been possible to be worse??) does not make him good enough.

    Without Weir’s DG, where would this blog be today?? The first half was as bad as England. Putting our noses in front then letting Italy score with virtually the next play is not a great sign.

    We won, the team will benefit from the boost in confidence. Some individual successes (Gray, Beattie, Dunbar).

    Will SJ have the balls to drop another captain?
    Will the Murrayfield pitch allow any sort of decent game against France?
    If Wales beat England, will we be able to keep it respectable in Cardiff?

    More questions than answers for me on Saturday. Papered over the cracks.

    1. Line speed is how fast the defence move up to put pressure on the opposition. If you were watching the game, in the first have, the Scottish defence was relatively lazy and the Italians were able to try and move the ball around. By the second half, we were putting much more pressure on them which is why apart from that single try, they struggled to do much in terms of attacking.

    2. That being said there was a few over zealous players in defence…Mr Lamont. We could all see what he was thinking “I’m going to smash this guy and force a turnover”, the problem is it didn’t work and the Italians scored again. Nothing wrong with trying to get up super fast and forcing a turnover with a monster hit, but not in your own 22. Hopefully he’ll behave a bit better against the french.

  17. As far as I can see that is Girths longest spell on the pitch since early September. High marks for patience and talent.

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