by ALAN LORIMER
WELL DONE SCOTLAND! To come so close to achieving an away win over Wales and matching the red shirts in the number of tries scored confirms that Scottish rugby is on the rise. Hopefully the remainder of the Six Nations will confirm this trend.
Has he gone bonkers, you may well ask of me. Well no, actually. I am referring to the women’s match against Wales on Friday night when Scotland lost to their Welsh counterparts by a single point in a thrilling contest at Colwyn Bay.
Well done, ladies, for providing the only source of cheer this weekend. The under-20 game followed the women’s match and seemed to unpick the feel-good factor generated by the women. In a one-sided match, the under-20s were totally outclassed as Wales showed the way in almost every area of play.
And yet only eight months ago Scotland were celebrating a new era in the under-20 game after finishing fifth in the Georgia-hosted World Under-20 Championship. But looking back on that high point, Scotland had all the cards in the right place for that tournament. They had the benefit of a large contingent of players returning for a second year at under-20 level and the vital ingredient of a number of professionals.
All change this season, however, with what was essentially a new crop of players representing Scotland, and several of them without experience of playing regular first team rugby in the BT Premiership, the minimum requirement for international under-20 rugby.
The 2018 Six Nations Under-20 Championship will be a crash course in learning to play at the this level for many of the squad, and essential if they are to survive in this summer’s World Under-20 Championship in France, when they will come up against players with experience of the Aviva Premiership and the Super 14.
There is an uncanny parallel between the under-20s and the senior Scotland side. The under-20s previous international match was against Australia, the win over the young Wallabies providing the Scots with their highest ever world ranking.
And Gregor Townsend’s side established a similar elevation in the rankings at senior level following the demolition job on Australia at BT Murrayfield. The senior side, however, does not have the massive turn over in personnel that is the lot of the under-20s, except, perhaps, in the front-row department, where the new criterion for a cap is not being injured.
Scotland’s plummet from the soaring heights of success over Australia has not been met with much sympathy from fans, but it is worth remembering that the under-20s lost to Wales in last year’s Six Nations by a big margin before turning the tables on the Welsh some four months later in Georgia. Nadirs are not permanent.
Despite what the instant critics have voiced after the disheartening result in Cardiff, Townsend’s desire to play a high tempo game is to be applauded. And who knows, but for the two early disastrous errors that allowed Wales to build a 14 points lead in as many minutes, the game might have developed in a different way.
The problem is that Scotland are not so good at being proactive and are better when playing off an opposition prepared to initiate attacking rugby. That’s what Wales did to Scotland in Cardiff and that’s what Scotland did to Australia.
But which game got the fans out of their seats, Cardiff or Paris? Granted the conditions in Paris were dire but even so the ‘spectacle’ of watching Ireland go through nearly forty phases of one-pass rugby to achieve their win was not great value for the purchasers of highly priced tickets.
I might not be alone in thinking so, but Townsend should not be diverted off course by those urging a different direction. What if Scotland chose a tight game approach? The result would be a boring and grinding defeat. I’d rather see a running game but for that style to succeed Scotland need to work on better execution and devise a plan to counter blitz defences. And who knows, thus armed, they might replicate the highs of a now distant November Test series in at least one of the four remaining championship matches.