Nathaniel Breakwell analyses Scotland’s chances at the 6 Nations, the World Cup and beyond.
Scotland in 2012 have won three and lost eight, picking up the inglorious honour of the Six Nations ‘wooden spoon’ along the way. Sounds bad? It gets worse. A win against Fiji is nothing to write home about, and equally uninspiring is the one-point victory over Samoa, and the 9-6 victory over Australia in a game of underwater rugby was a meteorological anomaly.
More worrying are the losses against Italy and Tonga, with the latter confirming that Scotland will now face an uphill battle at the Rugby World Cup in 2015, where they will face two of the top eight nations in the pool stages.
The recent autumn internationals have clearly demonstrated the problems that are plaguing Scottish rugby; chiefly, an inability to get over the gain line, an unimaginative backline and poor execution of basic skills. Despite scoring three tries against New Zealand, which is no mean feat, the men in blue conceded the gain line far too often and leaked six tries. Against South Africa, a 10-21 loss, Scotland had 63 percent of the possession but rarely threatened the gain line in a game where the home side were left to rue their unforced errors.
Finally, Scotland faced Tonga at Pittodrie, where they went down 15-21. The Scots were unable to capitalise on the three yellow cards shown to Tongan players and the 20 penalties that the South Sea Islanders gave up. Instead they butchered try scoring opportunities and conceded 17 turnovers to the team in red.
Despite claims they are taking each game as it comes, most international sides are targeting the next Rugby World Cup already. Looking forward to 2015, anyone placing bets on a Scotland win should be paid a visit by the men in white coats. The aim will be merely to escape what will be a difficult pool, and, even if this is achieved, progression into the semi-finals is even less likely.
Instead of this long-term view, Scotland should concentrate on short-term, achievable goals. The focus, under a new coach, must now be on achievement and accountability. Andy Robinson has fallen on his sword – the question of why he was allowed to carry on for so long despite poor results remains unanswered by the SRU. The minimum requirement for this year’s Six Nations must be to beat Italy. The stretch target will be to challenge England at Twickenham and Ireland when they visit Murrayfield. This is not to say that four losses is acceptable, but that, given the current state of Scottish rugby, and the time it will take for the new coach to bed in, it is not realistic to expect more.
In order to achieve these short-term goals Scotland must start to execute the basics properly. The current failure to do so starves them of quality possession and the ability to carry out their game plans. Against Tonga, it wasn’t even evident that there was a game plan at all, this needs to be fixed urgently.
As South Africa have done, the men in blue need to develop a plan that they are capable of playing to, given the players they have in the squad. Lock Richie Gray, No. 8 Dave Denton and speedster Tim Visser must be at the centre of a strategy which focuses on a solid set piece, intelligent kicking and hard running. All of which would be greatly aided by consistency in selection of the half-back combination. The constant chopping and changing does not aid team cohesion; the new coach needs to decide what his best 9 and 10 combination is and stick with them. This will at least provide stability among the team’s key decision makers, without the fear of being subbed or dropped for one mistake – Mike Blair’s early bath against the Springboks comes to mind.
When set out on paper the problems appear obvious and the solutions simple for whomever picks up the reigns of Scottish rugby. However, this is far from the case. 2013 offers little respite from the gruelling intensity of test match rugby, but Scotland must go back to basics to give themselves a chance of progressing.
At the very least they must make themselves difficult to beat instead of gifting the opposition scoring opportunities. International rugby would be all the better with a competitive Scotland team.