Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


We’ve got our mojo, what about yours?

Ali Price
Ali Price breaks out with the ball- pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

There’s a lot of chat about injuries going around.

England, are we are told, in somewhat of a crisis. Eddie Jones thinks they’re being written off – he loves to stoke a fire that one – and has decided Ireland are favourites. At the recent 6 Nations launch he also had some time for a few trademark swipes at Scotland, quoted in the nameless paper:

“How excited do people get when the ball goes from side to side with Scotland?

Murrayfield grows an extra 10,000 people but, again, to play that under the pressure of expectation is going to be a different question to put to the team. They’ve got a great young coach, Gregor (Townsend), and he’s got them playing well.

But it’s different when you go in as underdogs from when you’re expected to win and play with that panache.”

Someone should perhaps point out to him that most of us north of the border expected to win the last match Scotland played, against his old team the Wallabies, be it 14 or 15 men on the pitch. And we all know how that turned out. He could be referring instead to last year’s Fiji or Samoan tests, where Scotland failed to handle being favourites very well.

I’m not sure if the side-to-side thing is a jibe at the aimless, crabbing play that Scotland were prone to a few years back, but he is at least right that now Scotland fans are excited about our team.

And we’re right to be.

We have our best back division in two decades – possibly more – and even a few players who would actually make the grade if they were playing for any other nation – which is not often a test our guys have passed. Aside from worries over Alex Dunbar and Duncan Taylor, the backs are all settled, fit and raring to go. There’s a feeling, a buzz. Scoring tries is a when, not if concept now and that puts Scotland in with a chance in any game they are focused on, against any team, as we saw against New Zealand. Even better, the myth we want the roof open and the rain on has long since been put to bed.

A comment that has appeared often on these pages (and elsewhere) as Scotland have shown glimmers of promise, the odd decent performance or even a win in recent years is this: when this Scotland team finally clicks, one day someone will be on the end of a hammering.

You could argue that was the Wallabies game and we can go back to sliding down to the Wooden Spoon basement again to let Ireland and England battle it out, but look at the players available to Townsend now who weren’t there in the autumn. Yes, we have worries in the front row and Richie Gray isn’t quite fit yet, but in every area aside from prop and replacement hooker this is surely a stronger squad than any selected last year. Injuries in the modern game could mean we never see the perfect blend of all our available players but this team has not yet peaked.

Some would also argue Scotland haven’t faced a stern test yet or that they wilted when they did (Paris and Twickenham last year). Everyone forgets that Scotland beat Ireland and Wales last year, games they were not expected to win even at home and fought off second half comebacks by both teams. They lost in France when Laidlaw and Strauss went off injured and there was not the depth to replace them. Would you worry about Ali Price replacing Laidlaw now?

Twickenham was the same thing, magnified. Brown’s card was brainless, but no team could have coped with the injuries that forced the players to play for longer, out of position. It’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation.

Our new, gallus generation are not afraid. They are focused on the buzz of winning, not because they want to know what it feels like for the first time but because they want to feel it again. Winning a tournament is different to winning one-off games, and this is the next step they will need to take. But our build up will not be focused on what we cannot do because of injury. Scotland as a team are in a good place.

In the 6 Nations, competition is fierce and unforgiving. Scotland will at the least need to beat Wales away, France at home and Italy away to be in with a shout; none of those is a foregone conclusion. They will want to exorcise the ghost of the Calcutta Cup while they are at it. There’s plenty of work ahead before we even think about being in the mix on the final weekend and that starts with a performance in Cardiff.

Wales are so short of fit players they could be in danger of recalling Gavin Henson. Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb are the latest names they may have to do without, but overconfidence would be rash. Their own golden generation may be on the wane, but so is the love affair with Warrenball. As Gatland turns to fresher faces to inspire in the same way that the Scarlets do, you could see a resurgent Wales next week, never mind in a year or two. He might have to remove Rob Howley as a roadblock though.

Underestimating any side in the 6 Nations is a bad idea.

That includes Scotland.

30 Responses

  1. Pedantry alert: not sure how you can say that we held off a Welsh fightback in the second half last year, when they scored zip, nada, zilch, nothing, after the break. The fightback was really the other way around and it was one of the most dominant halves of rugby we had played in a long time, aside from one trying-saving tackle by Timbo Visser.

    Aside from that, generally agree. We shouldn’t overestimate ourselves and underestimate others, but I think we are entitled to have a substantial degree of confidence that this is going to be one of our best opportunities to challenge for the championship in many years. That is, of course, on the assumption we win on Saturday. Lose, and mid-table is likely to be so close, that we could be holding on for 5th.

    1. You are right Smidge, it was only a minor fightback Wales put up either side of half time (if I recall correctly and there is a good chance I don’t!), the Ireland one was the main one I referred to as that often gets written off as “oh well it was the first game” without due credit, I feel.

      1. Yes, I don’t buy that narrative at all. The Irish (“mouthy” comments n’all) were celebrating the victory before the game kicked off. It was the first one up for both teams, so the argument can never work. The Ireland match was the one, in my view, that really marked a turning in our fortunes and showed we were competitive against the top 4 or 5 in the world.

  2. All 3 of our first matches are 50:50 matches or there about. Last year one of Wales worst teams over the past 15 years were able to come within 5 minutes of beating England’s best side of the past 15 years – and Wales were definitely the better side – which shows just how strong they are at home and having only beaten them there once this century they will start as the slight favorites but with our form we have every chance of beating them. I’d give us a 49.9% chance of winning this one.

    France have talents and have players who can hurt anyone but have brought in so many new young players with just 492 international caps in their squad compared to our 811 and their lack of chemistry, experience and fluidity will effect them. At Murrayfield i’d say it’s a 60:40 match in our favor but with France’s talent’s it will be tough.

    England have won 22 of their last 23 matches so will start with favorites but with how we have performed at Murrayfield recently you have got to say we will be more than a match for them. I’d give us a 40% chance against them on home soil. I wouldn’t rule us out against Ireland but with they are playing I feel we probably have just a 20% chance of winning and with how faar we have come over the past few years Italy should be a must win game.

    My point is we could easily win those 1st 3 matches but at the same time we could lose all 4 of them and the difference between winning 1 match and winning 4 and possibly the championship will come down to finite margins, mental strength and even the bounce of the ball.

    My 1st hope for this tournament is if we want to show the world we have progressed we cannot be on the receiving end of a 25+ point thrashing like last year I would expect and hope especially in the 1st 3 matches we at the very least close to our opponents. My 2nd (as a minimum target) is that we win 3 games and continue our progress and don’t go backwards using winning 3 games in consecutive years to challenge for the title in 2019.

    In the summer we will have the chance to try out Fagerson Jnr and Kinghorn and with 2 lesser opponents and Argentina we can get good practice together as a squad with a variety of different players and will come closer to understanding our best 15 and 4 test matches against Wales, Fiji, South Africa and Argentina will set us up perfectly for the world cup year and the 2019 six nations.

    1. Your 2nd last para is exactly where I am at…but I believe the we need to beat the welsh, england and Italy…

  3. The Ireland game was the one that showed that no-one can come to MF and win a game easily.
    If the backs get a wee bit ball / time we will score 25 pts ish.
    The Wales game is absolutely fascinating. If the Welsh elect to kick for territory Hogg will likely see loads of the ball (good news), if they elect to run (good news), have they got the beef/talent to bully us (not sure). Scotland can be strangled/bullied but it’ll take a well coached team with the necessary muscle to do it. It may be that Wales “target” Hogg, trying to upset him. Fascinating genuine 50/50 game.

  4. Visiting Cardiff for only the 2nd time. (Won’t mention too much about my first time 4 years ago when my expectations were reasonably high)
    I hope that the Scotland players go in with the belief to win and win their battles and make positive decisions based around confidence. I would love to see us attacking from deep and really taking it to the Welsh. I think we are fitter and if we are in the lead going into the last quarter I hope our experience will then help. Especially if you have the likes of Laidlaw coming off the bench.
    I don’t think anyone should listen to Eddie Jones. He’s only out there to protect himself and the England team although he has a point about us having to deliver without being the underdog.

    I agree with the other comments in that there will be a lot of close games and tight calls and decsions we won’t agree with and that we go into each game positively with a good chance to win 4 matches.

    There is always hope and also a beer or two to wash down either way the results go.

  5. I’ve a slightly sick feeling going in to the first match. I think its excitement tempered by a long history of false starts and disastrous trips to Wales. Remember Hoggs red card after the last lions tour 4 years ago! This is the best Scotland team for a generation and its getting close to peaking. Saturday could go very well for us and lead on to something very special or the bubble could burst and then be trampled by France with new coaches and England’s chariot at home. Hope the boys aren’t as nervous and play to their potential, the ball bounces our way and Barclay wins the bragging rights over his Scarlets teammates.

  6. On a more positive note. I think Tooney has been developing a game plan for Wales since we beat Australia and the players will know how to execute it. I don’t think Gatland rates Scotland as his Lions picks suggest and we still have that as a motivator. I think Russell in particular will have a big game. I also think Gatland will try and match Scotlands attacking game which will be to our advantage. I think our scrum and lineout will be fine and Toolis might fancy pinching some of their ball. Watson and Barclay will be the most effective back row players on the pitch. Jones will score a try while the Welsh backs are hunting Hogg.

  7. There is nothing to be gained from being underconfident.

    I prefer to send Scotland in confident , so confident they can ride out the surprises. There is always intimidation and controversial decisions in Cardiff, easier to ride if you are positive.

    Wales always stick up a high ball against us looking for a penalty. I would love us to get one in first, so please gents, just one request, get it in, first.

    As for the roof, as an educted scot , I get offended listening to songs about bread and teeny weeny little sauce pans. So intensify it if you like , but for me , it stays open and we let it just reek over the top into the dank, blandness that is Cardiff.

    1. Love the last paragraph.

      It does seem to appear that the whole set up surrounding a game at Cardiff, the build up, the roof issue, the tactics on the pitch, seem to be geared towards mind games and cheap advantages rather than playing rugby.

      Whether it’s the pre-match drivel from “Gats” or the histrionics of the players on the pitch, just no need for it in a game of rugby.

  8. I think we are going to spank them.

    We have the players, the form, a settled side, the right coaches and above anything else the motivation.

    This welsh side is strung together at the last minute and doesn’t know how it’s going to play. The only thing they have is home advantage and that can be silenced.

    It also makes no difference whether we express this or not.

    And even if we do lose it’s not the end of tournament as pundits seem to be suggesting.

    Roll on the weekend!

  9. The Welsh away and the English at home are the crunch games for evidence of progress. Both provide historical hurdles of significant proportions and would be major notches in our belt.

    Without presuming that we have any right to do so, we should beat France at home and Italy away simply as confirmation of our status. Any less would be a disappointing regression.

    While Ireland away is probably a step too far, given the juggernaut that is their carrying and rucking game, we still have the tools to hurt them and a win is certainly a possibility, especially if we have won 2-3 of our first matches and built up belief and momentum. We would still need favourable winds, and the injury lottery to go in our favour, but it’s a possibility.

    I think Blake’s win likelihood percentages are pretty accurate, but think we can add 5-10% to those figures IF we don’t lose more players to injury, especially McInally, Finn, and any of our props.

    As others have said, Gregor seems to find a way, not only to strategise effectively, but also to get the players having intense fun with enough self-belief to express themselves collectively as a team. I was definitely one of those who felt concerned that we had shot ourselves in the foot by letting Vern Cotter leave so soon, but it’s certainly been a fun ride since GT took over. Looking forward – with the usual butterflies, of course – to Saturday!

    1. Yes, Wales and England matches will define our development so far. France of all sides, however, are capable of turning out sublime rugby.
      So I would not weigh the match result too much here but focus on how our boys played. I think any team will lose to a French side that manages to click on the day.

      My hope, for onward development of belief is that we win well against wales, england and Italy and show great character against Ireland and a possibly impossible French display.

      3rd, in my view, would be a prudent place to be as we head into 2019…

      1. I take your point about France, but do believe we should be strong enough to impose our will on them, especially at home, so that they aren’t able to produce their magic.

      2. Brunel will turn them around, they usually do not travel well but when they get it right, very few can hold them. Were it not for Joubert, France could and should have been RWC champions in 2011. We usually raise our game for France , it will be an achievement to overcome them even at home. Better wait to see what shows up this weekend before placing your bet.

  10. Some really interesting 6N statistical analysis for any dataheads out there by The 1014 Rugby, particularly in the second half of the video.

    These guys’ videos are well worth a look and their enthusiasm for Scottish rugby after the AIs was heartwarming. The ethos behind their analysis is also excellent – generous and positive wherever possible.

  11. We should play our rugby, one game at a time. Wales is usually costly.

    Personally, I hope we see a dilluded welsh crowd leaving the stadium at 60 minutes.

  12. I’m experiencing exactly the same mixture of feelings as I did in the approach to last year’s opener against Ireland : concern that it’s a tough first Test that we could lose; and confidence that our team is perfectly capable of winning it. I’m probably not alone in carrying that mental baggage all the way to 2.15 pm and a bit beyond this Saturday……
    C’mon Scotland!

    1. Our second half defence that day was excellent against an Irish team that was throwing everything at us. We had a ropey defence in the first of the autumn internationals. If our defence turns up from the start against Wales then our counterattacking will win the day.

      1. One regret against Ireland was that we couldn’t get the 4th try for the Bonus Point, despite scoring three tries within the first 30 minutes. Had we scored one more try against Ireland (and we had 2-3 gilt-edged chances before half-time), we would have been 2nd in the table instead of 4th. I think that should be an area of focus: really putting good teams away. Those extra bonus points make all the difference in short competitions like the 6N and the Champions Cup.

  13. Well, at some stage we’re going to beat our Welsh friends in Cardiff, but it isn’t easy! Rugby is their national sport, the entire country gets behind them and they raise their game in the 6N.
    Look at last season, when a fairly pedestrian and out of sorts Welsh team whom we spanked at Murrayfield came within a minute of toppling England, and then France needed a bizarre 20 minutes of extra time to squeeze past them at home.
    We have enough talent to beat them, but if we don’t turn up and they do then it will be a tough Saturday afternoon.

  14. We’ve made great progress. We’ve got really talented and committed squad. But to make the next step we have to start winning on the road. The odds can’t be worse than 50/50, so this is an opportunity we have to sieze. If we get the mental side right we can do it.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion