Four defeats from four, with the championship favourites to come.
Another disappointing defeat follows as sure as the seagull follows the trawler, and Scotland’s improving form of the Autumn has been replaced by the cold reality that there has been no big leap forward when it really comes to the crunch.
They have performed well in patches and there are some positive signs in amongst the bilge. On Saturday against England, after a horrific first 20 minutes, there was a display of real guts to get back into the game when it would have been easy to capitulate.
The frustrating thing for Scottish fans is that there are some straightforward issues which, if resolved and stuck to, would give the team a much stronger foundation and are all entirely within the power of the players and coaches. If they want to turn the results around, someone needs to stop Scotland from watching Barbarians video’s from the 70’s.
Here are the top three fixes I would make:
Get up to speed
Scotland at the restart have been very poor. The game against England was the prime example of an issue which has effected Scotland across the 6 Nations. You can’t start the each half on the back foot and with a lack of intensity. The level of precision needs to increase (no more kick offs into touch please!) and the level of controlled aggression needs to be taken up a notch for the full 80.
Scotland won’t win the game in the first 5 minutes but they can certainly lose it – the lack of organisation and intensity against the English was criminal, and could have seen the game out of sight before everyone had taken their seats. Send them out early to hit some bags and get the blood pumping again!
Think before you kick!
All too often in this 6 Nations the game plan has been to put up high kicks that can be competed for. As pointed out by Mike Blair in his, as ever, excellent BBC Online article, this is a solid tactic in theory however when performed as badly as it has been by Scotland across this tournament then it’s counter effective. All Scotland have managed to do is give away easy possession and position.
Saturday’s game had multiple examples of kicks that went too long and the likes of Mike Brown were running at full tilt by the time the Scotland kick chase were up with play. Scotland would be better served to start to play the percentages and kick for touch more regularly. The lineout is mostly reliable these days and always provides an opportunity for turnover ball. When playing in the opposition’s half Scotland have looked decent but they are not there long enough to build any pressure.
The best sides are happy to concede possession if the opposition will get the ball inside their 22, knowing that the pressure of having the ball so deep will often lead to mistakes, penalties or easy concession of the ball.
Keep it simple, stupid!
Scotland have been at their best when they have played a simple game plan.
Good lines, sucking in multiple defenders, and then quick ball through the hands.
It worked in Paris, and again resulted in a try at Twickenham. Like a rolling maul, when done well it is highly effective, and frustratingly difficult to stop. Unfortunately too many times Scotland tried to score on every phase rather than appraising the game more widely – this results in panic passes or poor decision making.
Have an overlap? Pass the ball through the hands so it stays an overlap, rather than a high, long miss pass which slows the attack down and allows the defenders to come across.
Have to defend a setpiece attack? Stick in the line and don’t bolt out.
The worry is that some of the stuff Scotland would benefit from thinking about is the stuff every club up and and down the country would do as standard in pre-season.