Six nations reality: can we really buy into Scotland’s title hopes?
Injuries and missed opportunities leave a large question mark over the Dark Blues
Does Scotland miss that something special to truly get over the hump, or are they really on their way to Six Nations glory?
Just when it seemed like a good idea to pass judgement on the Scottish national rugby team, they make us question everything we think we know.
That’s how many observers with a thorough understanding of the Scottish rugby team put it.
“They are an enigma, very difficult to understand how they always seem to find a way to lose even when winning is the more likely,” said one rugby insider.
Last Sunday offered a perfect portrait of this controlled chaos that has left Scotland dangling in rugby purgatory for the best part of two decades, straddling the blurry line between a competitive team capable of something and a who-knows-what-more-they-could-become.
It began with a stunning 27-22 victory over Ireland that ended a painful ten-year duck in opening round RBS Six Nation contests. Leading 21-8 at the interval, Scotland collapsed, allowing Ireland to blast their way into the lead. But unlike in previous capitulations, the Dark Blues refused to buckle, with captain Greg Laidlaw coolly slotting two late penalties to seal a 27-22 victory.
“I think it [defeat of Ireland] would have to be [the best],” Scotland head coach, Vern Cotter, said post-match on the magnitude of the victory. “It changes the dynamic [of the six nations] if you start with a win.”
Unfortunately, it ended with a typically Scottish defeat in round two last Sunday in Paris, against a French side observers felt were ripe for the taking.
“It was tough out there,” said Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg following the loss. “France are a massive physical pack and they brought it to us. But we chucked it away. Our errors cost us throughout the whole game. We didn’t look after the ball, didn’t respect it and ultimately that cost us.”
Defeating Ireland and earning a losing bonus-point against France, in a vacuum, are encouraging signs. It is tempting to buy back into Scotland’s Six Nations threat level with a pair of home ties against Wales and Italy splitting a trip to Twickenham all on the horizon after this weekend’s tournament break.
And yet red flags abound.
Scotland’s trek back to relevance is nothing but unconvincing. The crunch-time victory over Ireland should not be celebrated too much after throwing away a 13-point half-time lead, while against France it was the similar tale of leading into the final quarter before collapsing late.
To compound matters, in the aftermath of the French defeat it was revealed do-it-all scrum-half Laidlaw is out for the remainder of the tournament with an ankle injury. Questions surrounding John Hardie, John Barclay, Zander Fagerson, Allan Dell, and Alex Dunbar also linger, after all suffered head knocks.
On paper, Scotland have a side capable of challenging most tier one rugby sides. However, injuries on this scale – coupled with lapses in concentration from stars like Finn Russell, who bizarrely missed a simple conversion late on that could have put the Scots 18-13 ahead late – leave a large question mark hovering above the Dark Blues.
The space Scotland now occupy should be closer to the penthouse than it is, and while it has been a relatively positive start to the Six Nations, there’s no plausible path to greatness. Yet.
Scotland host Wales in round three of the RBS Six Nations live on February 25th on BBC ONE Scotland.