THE curtain comes down on Scotland’s Six Nations campaign in Paris this weekend. Overall, it has been an encouraging tournament and one that has lifted the dark cloud which lingered above the national team after a miserable Autumn Test Series.
Scotland have not beaten France since 2006 which incidentally was the year of Scotland’s best Six Nations campaign. A win would replicate the three wins and third place finish of 2006. Scotland will have to bounce back from a 28-18 defeat last week at home to Wales (Scotland lost by the exact same scoreline in 2006) after the visitors proved to be too strong in the final quarter of the match.
Scotland’s campaign has contrasted with France. Les Bleus were joint favourites with England before the Six Nations started after showing terrific form in beating Australia last year but an opening day defeat to the Italians in Rome knocked the stuffing out of them. A draw last week against Ireland is all they have to show for their efforts and will be looking to prove a point in ending the campaign on a high.
SCOTLAND coach, Scott Johnston, compared his side’s resurgence to the TV show Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). Johnston stated that Scotland showed ”fingerprints” of their development against England whilst victory of Italy provided “eye witnesses” to Scotland’s improvement but insists his team need to beat Ireland for the “police to come around” and consider Scotland as major players in this tournament.
Johnston has supplied the media with various colourful quotes and comparisons (most memorably when he compared statistics to a bikini when he said “statistics are like bikinis, they let you see a lot but not the whole thing”) that suggests the interim boss doesn’t take himself too seriously but behind the scenes he is doing a remarkable job to make Scotland competitive again amongst the world’s elite.
The clash against Ireland is one that Scotland will go into with huge confidence and optimism. The Scots are injury free and only make one change as Ewan Murray makes way for Geoff Cross because of the Tighthead Prop’s faith. Ireland are decimated with injuries to key players in key positions. Fly-Half Jonny Sexton is out with a hamstring problem and is replaced with 21 year old Paddy Jackson who will earn his first cap instead of Ronan O’Gara who received criticism when he came off the bench in Ireland’s defeat to England. Centres, Simon Zebo and Gordon D’Arcy are out with ankle injuries and Lock Mike McCarthy is out with a knee injury.
SCOTLAND succumbed to their seventh successive defeat in their Six Nations opener at Twickenham last week in a courageous but error-strewn display. Next up it’s the Italians who look stronger than they ever have. The Azzurri have matured into this competition and victory over France proved that.
Their aggressive play forced France into mistakes and the capitalised in ways that they have failed to do in the past. Scotland can’t afford to lose this match or back to back wooden spoons may beckon for the first time in Six Nations history.
The Scots should fancy their chances but Italy are no longer the weakest side in this tournament now, the rankings and form suggest that it is Scotland who are the weakest. This tournament is all about Scotland proving that isn’t the case and turning those glimmers of positivity into consistently performing well and getting results. Scotland’s last Six Nations win was this very fixture 2 years ago and that was a stodgy 21-8 win.
However, Scotland should win this game as Italy are not England. Scotland competed well for the majority of the match at Twickenham but were overpowered in the end by a combination of brutal English forward running and lapses in concentration. England broke the line too often and were able to convert opportunities through off-loading and gaining quick ball in the contact areas.
Scotland contributed to their own downfall by missing too many first tackles. The 38 points yielded at Twickenham is the most ever conceded from Scotland in Six Nations history but some aspects of the defence did function better than it did in the autumn. The set-piece worked better and the area we dominated England in was the driving maul success. This proves that when fully concentrated Scotland can keep sides out but they switch off and make too many errors and that could cost us against Italy who were ruthless against France.
SCOTLAND kick off their Six Nations campaign with a trip to Twickenham to tackle the Auld Enemy.
The Scots have been all but written off to win the Six Nations but after a torrid last 12 months, pride is what is at stake for Scotland. Scotland lost all five of their Six Nations clashes to finish with the wooden spoon for their efforts. Last years campaign was filled with optimism. Scotland hadn’t had a squad strong enough to consistently compete against other home nations since 2000.
Some pundits made Scotland favourites against England last year, only to be edged out 13-6 at Murrayfield in last year’s Calcutta Cup clash. It all went downhill from there, confidence sapped away from the squad and although there were glimpses of true quality they made too many mistakes.
Ill-discipline cost them at Cardiff, missed tackles in Dublin, outclassed by the French and the most humiliating defeat to the Italians. This Six Nations is all about redemption. Recovering some pride for a nation who has been badly bruised by defeat to Tonga last time out is the aim. Scotland sit 12th in the world rankings; 5 places behind, Samoa, 2 places behind Italy and a place behind Tonga.
The rankings suggest that Scotland should come stone dead last and collect their 4th wooden spoon in Six Nations history. The biggest issue with the Scotland team is confidence in their own ability. Too many times Scotland have been in winning positions but don’t believe in themselves to get over the line. It’s absolutely critical to get off to a good start in this tournament.