With the Auld Enemy clash looming, I’m now in danger of lapsing into unfounded and frankly blind optimism that Scotland could pull off a result. Sound logic and basic common sense would throw up the equation that Scotland + England x Twickenham = Large England Victory. It’s not exactly Stephen Hawking-esque in its complexity, I know, but then I did watch the Theory of Everything over the weekend. So, where do I find such hope?
The pressure is off Scotland.
After our frankly terrible result against Italy most fans and journalists have inscribed the wooden spoon with our name and written off our chances of causing any upsets in the process. However, sport is littered with giant killing episodes (Italy beating Scotland at home, for example…ahem.) One of the main reasons – inexcusable as it is – that Scotland imploded against Italy was pressure. I wrote in a previous article that Vern Cotter will have learned a lot about his players from that 80 minutes but also, those players will surely have learned from such a chastising experience. We’ve proven in the last 12 months that when the pressure is off, then we can compete well with the bigger teams. Cut out the silly errors and lapses in concentration we displayed against France and Wales and we have a chance.
Euan Murray is angry. You won’t like him when he’s angry.
In a recent interview, Euan Murray spoke well about the loss to Italy and the desire to “administer the killer punch” in games. Yes, it’s easy to talk but Murray, if he plays, will be integral on Saturday in what may be his final 6 Nations away day. His experience and scrummaging ability should prove essential in what is going to be a difficult afternoon at the office against Marler, Hartley and co. Plus, with Ross Ford a doubt for the game and uncertainty of who gets the loose-head shirt, we can’t afford to not have his knowhow in such a critical position.
Finally, it may be 7 years ago but I like to think Murray still has the ability in him that once saw him destroy Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira and have Victor Matfield and co quaking in their boots at the thought of seeing him again. Halcyon days indeed.
Guess who’s back? Back again?
Everybody’s favourite stone mason, dancer and maverick fly-half Finn Russell will almost certainly slip back into the team on Saturday. Would he have made the difference against Italy? Yes, and that’s perhaps unfortunate for Peter Horne who was solid, if unspectacular. But therein lies the crux of the matter. Russell, with his quick thinking, heads up style of rugby allows the back line to get involved and start firing. Russell loads the chambers, Dunbar, Hogg, Seymour and co fire the shots.
That isn’t to say he’s perfect, nor indeed a world class player, but he gets you off your seat and tries something. Sure, he’s made a couple of mistakes with his kicking choices and ran some pretty dodgy lines in the past but has he looked shaken or out of his depth? No, he’s chipped and chiseled away at opposition defenses in an attempt to find the breakthrough we need and against the Azzurri, that was sorely lacking.
Russell can also take some comfort from the way his opposite number, George Ford, was cowed by Jonny Sexton last weekend. I appreciate we’re talking about the best no 10 in the Northern Hemisphere (perhaps the world) but Ford only sparked to life after Sexton left the field. Does Russell possess both the personality and talent to dominate his opposite number in such a fashion? He certainly isn’t shy or intimidated by confrontation but the jury is out on whether his big game management is sufficient.
Returning absentees provide hope.
With the aforementioned Russell free from suspension and Sean Maitland being added to the squad, we could feasibly see Scotland’s first choice back line in action on Saturday for the first time this tournament. This is a back-line that in the autumn had us all purring more than George Galloway ever did at a bowl of milk, and one which certainly has tries in it.
The pack is, of course, still a cause for concern but the prospect of seeing our back-line using that big old paddock at Twickenham to stretch their legs is an exciting prospect and let’s not forget, in Stuart Hogg we possess the player with the most meters made and defenders beaten stats thus far and in Jonny Gray one of the most effective tacklers. We have good players too you know…
Some bookmakers are putting the odds at 8/1 for a Scotland victory, so it’s apparent we’re underdogs but if we don’t have a little hope, we may as well give up.
Finally, there was a quote in the movie I mentioned at the start of this piece that struck me as relevant; “There should be no boundaries to human endeavor. We are all different. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.”
Let’s just hope our boys share that ethos on Saturday.