Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


The Underwhelmed Minority

Gregor Townsend
Gregor Townsend Scotland - pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

Being a Scottish rugby supporter has always been a tough gig.

Sure there are highs, like in 1999 (have you kept your VHS just to play the Five Nations Champions video?), beating England and France in 2006 and of course a Euro Cup run by Edinburgh and Glasgow’s excellent Pro 12 victory. But there has also been a nearly constant stream of average to poor that it seems has left even the most positive of fans with a crushing cynicism regarding our national prospects.

The unfortunate things is that for the most part, this has been justified.

Of course we would blow it against Australia in the RWC when all that was needed was a sensible lineout.

Of course our whole defensive structure would disintegrate on the back of a 60% personnel reshuffle in the backs at Twickers – when we’d started with on paper the best Scottish attack in two decades.

Of course we would lose to Fiji, having dispatched the Italians and our old pals Australia (in Sydney) in the summer.

The body of previous evidence was overwhelming and these most recent instances only added fuel to the fire.

And yet, Scotland is a team with talent. Anyone with 1% rugby knowledge can see the insane improvements that Scotland have made, especially in the quality of their back play. We average almost 4 tries per game now, where previously this would have represented an improved total for the season. We have some world-class operators in key positions and decent depth in the majority.

Scottish rugby is actually in rude health.

Thus I find myself at a strange place. The majority rhetoric is still one of negativity, where supporters seem quick to talk down or ever counter the obvious progress we have made.

One visit to a particularly well-visited Glasgow supporters forum would give you all you need to take stock of this. It even happened this weekend against Samoa, a team we have always had close games with. We have not earned the right to thump any nation, and Samoa represents a challenge unique in world rugby.

We scored six tries, could have had three more, and yet the “headlines” if you like are about how bad we played. Yes, improvement is needed in defence, yes we need to tighten up our set piece and yes, this new breed of fast-paced, exciting rugby will take time to bed in let alone execute. Clearly, the coaching staff will be looking at all of the above, but a win in a must-win game is a new thing for our side and isn’t it time that we took a step back and remembered where we were only a few short years ago?

I am excited at the future of this side, and although I have high standards for what I expect from our individuals and collective, I won’t be getting hung up on Finn missing touch, or a stray lineout, or a butchered overlap anymore.

These guys are quality players, the best we have had in a long time and most are far from their peak years. Not even the All Blacks play a perfect game even when it seems like they do. I am going to enjoy the ride, as we are one of the best rugby sides to watch.

As long as we score one more point than the other guys, the jobs a good yin!

It all happens again this weekend when we take on the best side in the world. If we don’t score that one extra point, I’m sure the boys will give us a performance to be proud of.

29 Responses

  1. Well said. The joy and the buzz around Murrayfield is palpable.

    Having watched Scotland across Europe since the late nineties I came to accept that 80 minutes of disappointment did not ruin a day or weekend or six nations, even if it was every match.

    We now live and support in exciting rugby times. We are 6th in the ranking and are fun to watch.

  2. Agree with Dan, anyone moaning should look into their rugby nightmares to the painful Matt Williams era (only game of rugby I ever walked out off – v Wales), or the apologetic Hadden tenure.

    We have Hogg, H.Jones, Russell – all a joy to watch.
    Seymour, Maitland, Dunbar, Taylor, Barclay, Watson, Toolis, Nel, Brown, Grays all international class.

    Parts of the Wales, Ireland, Australia games this year have been my rugby career watching highlights.

    Tomorrow I reckon we’ve the best chance of beating NZ in my rugby watching career (not as preposterous a claim as it seems as often we’ve had NO chance)

    I set down a challenge to the All Blacks – embrace an open chaotic game, may the best team win.

    1. Shame Bennett has dropped off these list – hope he comes back in sparkling form as at his best he is as good as Jones in my opinion.

      1. I share your optimism about Scottish rugby. If we are to progress we need lots of depth and the interesting thing about all of these dream team posts , is this:

        *We have choices
        *In fact we squabbling over the choices
        *We are not selecting between donkeys and heid the baw types with dillusions of adequacy
        *We are discussing good international standard , in some cases very good .
        *In many cases there is really nothing between them
        *They are largely young men still to reach their peak

        Despite having the lowest number of players, at any level, in all of the 6 nation unions we have this degree of resilience.

        One thing as fans we need to get our head around, is there is no point in wishing some were fit to play , they are not fit, and importantly they are no longer the incumbent. Our best team, is the one on the pitch.

        What is not to like about where we are right now.

        BVC left us reluctantly. Says it all really, we are in a good place, he saw that,wish we could.

  3. I don’t think it’s about being underwhelmed. I think it’s fear of hope. We’ve been hurt before…

  4. fun to watch is nice, but winning much better.
    Proof of the pudding is tomorrow against the NZ. You can put as positive a spin on Samoa game as you like, but I very much doubt we will score 6 tries against NZ, and I very much doubt Samoa are capable of scoring more than the ABs against us.
    So we have to play very very much better this week. That isn’t negative, it is a proper assessment as opposed to cheer-leading.

    Yes we are much better than for a couple of decades, but are we good enough?

    1. Shouldn’t be forgotten how much better Ireland and England are than for over a decade. Wales are often under estimated but are full of quality players. It’s great to be back in the mix but we have some way to go before winning a grand slam (not to say it couldn’t happen in 2018 – but we’d need our best players fit and our pack firing in all cylinders).

  5. This is top level international sport – The pressure that comes with winning and performance is that you have to back it up and continue to get better. I don’t buy the mumbo jumbo of the ‘Scotland way’ i.e. to have sporadic success followed by inevitable mediocrity. Are people in Ireland and Wales saying this?Of course they are not they are genuinely believing that they can win grand slams and even world cups – There is no reason why we shouldn’t be thinking big like that also – of course its incredibly difficult and unlikely but its sure as hell less likely if we all collectively accept that we have made strides and we should be grateful for our lot. This team is capable of much better than it showed on Saturday and in my opinion it is right that the focus is on the things that didn’t go well

  6. There’s room for both optimism and realism in this AI series…we’ve won the “should win” game, however rustily, so the heat’s off, now the “should lose” games we can have a go and who knows? Lose and no major damage done…it’s like having a tenner on a decent outsider, which (for me) is a lot more fun than having a hundred on the favourite.

    1. I think the Australia game is moving into toss a coin territory given how close our recent encounters have been. ABs is gonna be a tough watch I suspect.

      1. I’d still say its theirs to lose, ours to win though…especially once the’ve beaten england this weekend :)

    2. ‘Rusty’ was the word that came to my mind also…I don’t think it has changed the Scottish team’s upward trajectory; the journey toward the peak continues.

      I would prefer that we didn’t win the 6N in 18 but instead take one or two big scalps and continue the current trajectory…i think it is late 2019 that the team must peak and not before.

  7. I think its a national trait to be realistic with a healthy dose of pessimism, we cant help it. We have gone from being flat out bad to playing well but not getting the results, then we were playing well and winning some games, now we are at the playing well and winning some but playing badly and also winning some stage. Playing badly but still winning is the hallmark of a good team and is how you win 6Ns and WCs. There was an element of that last weekend. In the not too distant past we would have lost that game.

    Look at our “best” games in the last few years, most of them have been relatively close and we have conceded a fair bit in all of those games. The mantra seems to be go out there and score more than the opposition, I have made this point before so I wont labour on it. I think this is a good attitude, it is playing the game positively, makes for entertainment, great if we win and we make a damn good game of it if we lose.

    Roll on the ABs and may the best team win, its 15 vs 15 on the day.

    1. Well realistically, an encouraging year has also included humiliation at Twickenham and a loss in Suva. So we’re getting better but we’ve some way to go yet. At least we’re not just Italy’s rivals any more!

  8. As long as we win in Cardiff and beat England at home in the 6N I’m not worried if we lose tomorrow!

  9. Good article, John. Accurately describes the ups and downs for the team and supporters in the past decade and a half.
    On the upbeat:
    Of course Ireland would win having overturned a 21-8 Scotland lead at Murrayfield – but they didn’t.
    Of course Wales would win at 6-16 ahead this year at half-time – but they didn’t.
    Of course Australia would win in Sydney at 19-17 up after clawing themselves back – but they didn’t.
    That’s the difference between Scotland now and the teams of a few years ago.
    C’mon, Scotland!

  10. Your article sums Scottish rugby and our expectations up perfectly John, I’ll try and, “enjoy the ride today”. I’m expecting us to lose the game to a better side but to score two or three tries and, for the most part, play an exciting brand of rugby. Looking forward, I think all international teams will be playing an open brand of rugby, we are all always trying to catch up with the innovative AB rugby. The point of difference, as always, will be the quality of players and depth of quality at our disposal. The ongoing development of young Scottish players, therefore, is crucial.

  11. Wales laboured to beat Georgia and needed some gamesmanship too. But it is clear that forward domination is need to beat Wales.

  12. I am still learning the sport and hope/believe the future is bright (if not the present)! I have embraced Scotland while watching from here in the US. They seem to me to have talent and I have not been disappointed in the efforts during the matches I have been able to watch. I thought they had a good opportunity to win the 6N though the loss to France was difficult to swallow.

  13. Huge improvement in defense , thought Seymour struggled and seems to do this occasionally on the big stage, mcguigan earns his place for me against Australia.

    Handling was better and more controlled , this needs to be how we start all games now and build the attack from their.

    Marfo another good solid game against the all blacks, looks like somone who may now be considered 1st/2nd choice regardless of injuries.

    I think thats a pretty good Fck you to Warren Gatland also, here we are pushing the AB’s first choice to the limit and they are struggling to beat Georgia with a quality sets of backs struggling to score.

  14. Well played, Scotland. So close, although always a stretch to come back from 12 points down. Great that, against a first-choice ABs team, the opposition had to resort to slowing the game down to a crawl to run down the clock.

    Encouraging, and I’m guessing fewer of us will be glass half-empty next time in our predictions.

  15. No Nel, Sutherland, Dell, Ford, Brown, Dickinson, R Gray, Taylor or Maitland and we ran them so close. Reckon we would have taken them had we the full compliment to pick from.

    1. possibly , but but Nz were missing dane coles , Retallick who could be considered the best players in the world for their positions, also Ben smith probaly is still first choice at fullback when back from sabatical.

      On another note i was impressed with the guy who replaced watson early on, nothing amazing but good go forward and seemed to fit well in out setup.

  16. The best part was how our bench came on and really took it to them. Hamilton and Dunbar going off was crucial, though; the former because he was really beginning to do some damage (hope it’s not as bad as it looks) and the latter because it left us exposed in the backs for NZ’s first try.

  17. What this also means is that if we come up against them in a World Cup final or semi-final, there won’t be any sense of “Oh, well, we did well to get this far.” We will believe anyone can be taken down.

  18. Excellent performance from Scotland. Definitely gave NZ a game. If the English ref hadn’t given then until christmas to have a breather between scrums we may have had time on the clock to get the points for a win…we certainly looked like we could break through again at the end.

    Marfo is a class find. 1st choice LH for me. Hamilton looked really really good to me. Hope his injury isn’t bad. Looked a 1st choice level player to me…even better than Watson.

    Hogg looked world class. Every time he got the ball he was a huge threat to NZ.

    Negatives… Seymour didn’t have a great game…Turner was terrible in the scrum. Some over anxious handling near the try line cost us valuable points.

    I think its fair to say ‘stick that one up ya’ Gatland…and looking forward to meeting yer boys in the 6N.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion