- A clinical cutting edge again
Remember when the team would struggle to score as many tries in an entire season as they did against the Wallabies on Saturday? When the attack crawled crabwise from one side of the pitch to the other, lacking the strength or invention to make a breakthrough?
Thankfully, such times are now a thing of the past, and we have a squad full of attacking intent – and the ability to deliver. It’s not just the obvious players like Stuart Hogg either: all the players have bought into the game plan, and have the confidence to go for a gap if they see one. It is a playing style that complements and maximises what are still fairly restricted resources.
The team has developed a positive winning culture which was demonstrated by their ruthlessness in putting Australia to the sword. It is not always easy playing against 14 men – but they fully exploited that advantage on Saturday
- Strength in depth
Think of the senior players who missed out on Saturday’s match.
Not so long ago, even if one or two of them had been absent we would have feared for the team. Now, while some of them will certainly figure in Scotland squads again, they will have to fight hard for their places against the younger men who have come in over the past three weeks and taken their chance.
In fact, if Gregor Townsend ever felt like reviving the old Blues v Whites trial for the Six Nations Championship (which he won’t, because the 1872 Cup will amount to the same thing), he could construct pretty much a whole team from those established internationals who were absent, largely through injury, at the weekend: Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and Willem Nel in the front row; Richie Gray and Tim Swinson at lock; John Hardie and Josh Strauss in the back row; then, in the backs, Greig Laidlaw, Alex Dunbar, Duncan Taylor and Stuart Hogg.
It has not just been individuals who have played well when given the opportunity; the squad as a whole has responded excellently to the absence of key men whose leadership was once seen as vital. Above all, the reliance – some would say over-reliance – on Greig Laidlaw’s leadership has gone. Remember the Rugby World Cup game against Samoa, when the scrum-half virtually dragged the team over the line and into the quarter-finals with his organisational ability and will to win? Remember how badly he was missed at times during this year’s Six Nations after being injured against France?
Now, not only has John Barclay quickly become a quietly commanding figure as captain, some of his deputies have also shown their leadership qualities. Townsend has named two vice-captains for every game, but perhaps more importantly there is now a wider leadership group who can be relied upon to assume real responsibility.
- The game plan is spot-on
Some of us were sceptical when Townsend said his aim was to play the fastest-tempo rugby in the world. We knew it would be exciting, but feared it could be too chaotic, risking consigning Scotland to defeats against bigger, more disciplined opponents.
That fear has not materialised. Indeed, against the All Blacks, when they could have won the game in the last play, and the Wallabies, when they scored their eighth and final try in the closing seconds, Scotland have shown that they have the fitness to implement the game plan – and that it is indeed the best way to take on the best teams in the world.
- The debutants have slotted in seamlessly
From Darryl Marfo and Jamie Bhatti at loosehead prop to Saturday’s man-of-the-match Byron McGuigan on the wing, the new boys have swiftly got up to speed. Mark Dodson wants to improve the supply lines into his professional game but the system is not doing too badly as it is.
- Defensive improvements
After a fairly shambolic start against Samoa, the defence improved beyond all recognition during the subsequent fortnight – line speed was outstanding against New Zealand and they held their shape impressively against Australia when the pressure was on at the start of both halves.
- Room for improvement in kicking game
Finn Russell can be careless at times. And, with the protection in the air now given to the receiver, the box kick is not the exit tool it once was, so alternatives need to be cultivated.
- Doubts about the timing of Gregor Townsend’s accession eradicated.
Maybe Scott Johnson knows what he is doing after all!
- Need to keep grounded
Two great performances but: (i) Samoa game was not that clever, (ii) at the end of the day they did not beat New Zealand, (iii) Australia were a tired team, and (iv) we are less than a year on from the disaster that was Twickenham.
- We can’t wait for the Six Nations Championship
This is easily the most exciting Scotland squad since they won the last Five Nations Championship in 1999 – and, of course, it is no coincidence at all that the team back then featured a certain G Townsend at stand-off. They won’t start as favourites for the title – let’s not forget that other teams are also getting better quickly and proving themselves just as adept at unearthing new players – but they will certainly have a real crack at it.