Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland 30-21 England: Those Frequently Asked Questions

Duhan Van Der Merwe heads for the tryline - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Duhan Van Der Merwe heads for the tryline - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports


2024 Guinness Six NationsSat 24th Feb 2024Murrayfield, EdinburghKick-off: 4:45 pm (UK)30-21


Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)| TV: BBC Sport

Following another domineering five-point win by Ireland who put struggling Wales away eventually, the list of potential outcomes still open to Scotland in this tournament shrinks yet further.

Despite what Andy Farrell will say about Ireland being the best version of themselves and only focusing one game ahead, it is convenient that they can now also plan to tie up the tournament in Round 4 with a bonus point win over England.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t questions about what comes next in the final rounds, especially for Gregor Townsend and Scotland.

Would we have won that game without Duhan?
Yes, but it wouldn’t have been as fun to watch, and we might have had to work a little harder for the tries. In terms of influence on the outcome, you also have to look at Finn Russell and Huw Jones who were both superb and were vital cogs in all three of the big winger’s tries. Watch Jones and White clear out the tacklers in support of Redpath’s break – Finn doesn’t get the quick pass from Ritchie for the cross-kick without them. It was great to hear the news too this week that Huw will be staying at Scotstoun for the foreseeable future.

Huw Jones at full tilt - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Huw Jones at full tilt – pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

The pack put in a much improved performance too with both Grant Gilcrhist and Scott Cummings to the fore at lineout time.

Will Duhan break the Scotland try-scoring record in the final two rounds?
If he starts against Italy, it could be the sort of game that will suit him, where Scotland look to counter-attack quickly from errors. Italy have improved a lot, but can still put under pressure. However, his chances for tries will be a lot fewer against Ireland who have proven well able to take him out of the game in recent encounters.

It seems certain that he will overtake Hogg before the year’s end, even picking up the odd yellow card.

Can Finn finish the tournament as top points scorer?
It is currently between him and George Ford – who is going to find conversions harder to come by in the next two weeks but does love a drop goal – and Ireland’s Jack Crowley, but if Finn can nab a try instead of being so generous with his distribution he’s got a good chance of being the first Scottish player to pick up that award.

Just how bad are England?
It did look ominous after their opening try; Scotland were cut open easily. After that, of course, Scotland did all the cutting. For England’s new defence coach Felix Jones it probably felt like death by a thousand cuts.

But his system – that the Springboks used against us to great effect in the World Cup – will take more than 3 games to bed in assuming they stick with it. The concern for England is that they cannot focus on building an identity and also and keep picking players at the tail end of their careers in order to eke out a win or two.

They have talent but why are they so unable to mesh it together? Luckily, that’s Steve Borthwick’s problem not ours.

Scotland were good but not close to great and it was enough to beat England.

What can Scotland do better?
Bring Blair Kinghorn in to the attacking line more and, as usual, get more carrying from the pack.

Everyone was so focused on the errors England made and the tries that resulted, it glossed over just how many knock-ons and turnovers Scotland gave away in the first half; Kinghorn’s best role is not fielding high balls, which is probably why England kicked it to him so much. Let him run!

Overall Scotland need to work more into scoring positions from phase play – Ireland will not be so generous with spilled balls in convenient attacking positions for Duhan.

The worry is Italy will be generous in the meantime, and give us false hope that we’re going to rock up in Dublin and get a Triple Crown without realising we are still undercooked.

Can Scotland cope without Sione Tuipulotu?
There are two weeks for him to recover but the word from Glasgow assistant coach Nigel Carolan during the week wasn’t great: this injury could keep him out for the next three weeks. Even so, it seems likely Cam Redpath or Stafford McDowall could be lined up to start against Italy to give Sione the potential for an extra week’s recovery, and also to allow his replacement to bed in ahead of Ireland if he is done for, in terms of the 2024 Six Nations. His power in midfield will be missed.

Scotland can cope without his power against Italy, but Ireland will be a bigger challenge where he would have been vital. The hope is that he has become such a fixture in midfield there is little video footage of anyone else for opponents to do research with.

Cam Redpath makes a break - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Cam Redpath makes a break – pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

Will there be changes for Rome?
As mentioned above, Cam Redpath is most likely to come in and hopefully this is the game where Andy Christie gets a start. Redpath is not a like for like swap for Sione but does have familiarity with Finn. If Townsend wants a powerful ball-carrier to replicate the Huwipulotu dynamic more closely, McDowall might be worth a look. No, we’re not playing Duhan at 13. What are we, Wales?

Ewan Ashman is more of a like-for-like swap with George Turner, with the young hooker much improved in the Calcutta Cup.

There is no need to go for the wholesale changes of the past but those three might realistically have started this game anyway and would be worth a shot.

Can we get out of a dogfight in Rome and finally score a try Bonus Point?
As usual Italy will probably target us for a win in front of a sell-out home crowd – and they got closer than Scotland did to France. It won’t be easy (it never is) but really if Scotland don’t come out with a comfortable win in Rome then they should be happy enough to settle for mid table again and the usual jibes in the Irish press.

And here’s one final question for you:

If Scotland win the Triple Crown for the first time since 1990 but still finish 3rd or so would it be considered a successful tournament?

We’d take some silverware, even our first Triple Crown without a Grand Slam since 1938. But a finish of third or even fourth would represent a considerable downturn in fortunes despite an uptick in performances.

If this is the peak era of this Scotland team, we’d really rather measure things in results…

7 Responses

  1. The photo of VDM above captures a very rare sight indeed..him carrying the ball in his left arm.It’s perfect and how it should be for a left winger..protecting the ball from incoming and having the ability to fend..basic stuff.
    Never judge a book by its can give a false impressions and it certainly does of VDM.Normal for him is carrying the ball in the fending arm,the right wrong.So imperfect.So useless, so much easier to deal with.
    His tendency to cut-in and look for a scrap is simply because he’s helpless if doesn’t.
    Against Castres,Wales and England he scored try’s and made it look easy..on the right wing..where he should be..I feel it coming.

    1. It looks like it’s just me and you Rory.
      There were two things happened near the end of the French game(not that)that I liked.The kick-off and Rowe’s run.Four times he swapped the ball from arm to arm and you could barely notice..simply beautiful to watch(until).If VDM could do that….
      But what VDM could do is..score us tries straight from kick-Off’ me it’s a no brainer.Trouble is,the seven’s not in fashion in 15’s.It nearly won us the game against the French.To me you have a team by the short and curly’s in that moment.They are spread all over the park and don’t know what’s coming..or shouldn’t,but they do as we follow the trend.
      Not so high with the kick mind,VDM wouldn’t take long to get there.
      Pish or what Rory?

  2. I think that it is a really good sign that so few people are commenting because that indicates that Scotland are doing well. They are winning( in fact, should have won them all) and there is still a feeling that they can and will improve. There appears to be a general consensus that the team selected is pretty well the best available and possibly for the first time, there is good depth in the squad. Glasgow and Edinburgh are having good seasons and ,hopefully, will compete for honours towards the end of the season.
    People are far more likely to comment when results are poor and there is controversy regarding the selection and tactics of the team and coaches, and the direction of Scottish rugby. I think we should be working towards a third and ,eventually, a fourth professional team.
    I ,also, think anyone who is eligible, should play f or Scotland. The only players who should play for England are those who are, unfortunately, ineligible to play for anyone else !
    In any case, I do enjoy reading the comments on this blog.

  3. I think that we will beat an improving Italy, probably not by much. As for Ireland- well, you never know!

    1. Concerned with Italy. They always drag us into an arm wrestle. We need to counter act that or things will be tight

      1. Agree. They go the full 80+ minutes now. For many years they played like the Ireland of the 70s and 80s – full on until running out of puff after an hour. They are a much improved side from the RWC 2023 and the years before. I’m expecting a real challenge from them on Saturday. Still looking forward to my bi-ennial trip to Rome, though. Beautiful city, lovely people and a great stadium.

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