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Do Scotland deserve their Six Nations status?

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Scotland’s performances in this year’s Six Nations have been nothing short of dire, but should they be ejected from the competition? Sports Team writer Emmott Leigh responds to these claims:

Photo: themirror.co.uk
Photo: themirror.co.uk

After Scotland’s 0-20 humiliation at the hands of England a week ago, an article was released in the Daily Telegraph by Paul Hayward which suggested that they be thrown out of the Six Nations tournament. Such melodrama is typical of the top media companies’ determination to exploit their readers for profit, but the fact that the article was released so prematurely is concerning in terms of the blanket rejection which seems to have been considered a possibility by top journalists.

 Scotland’s performances in the Six Nations have undeniably been poor, even if the first half at Dublin showed a little promise. Hayward seems to be arguing that Scotland have been on a slump for quite a while now, and their scoreless effort against South Africa in the autumn which ended 0-28 might back up that claim.

On the other hand, their rousing effort against Australia appears to have been forgotten, or perhaps passed over as just another loss. In that game, the likes of Duncan Weir, Sean Maitland and David Denton genuinely impressed with their carrying and defensive resolve. Scotland even finished third in the Six Nations only last year with a win over Ireland and a 34-12 thrashing of Italy, a fact that similarly appears to have passed over Hayward’s head.

They also hammered Japan 42-17 in the autumn and remain 10th in the international rankings. It should also be mentioned that the Scotland Rugby Union would more than likely fold and destroy Scottish rugby once and for all given that there are no other international tournaments which Scotland could reasonably take part in.

The most remarkable point of argument which Hayward chose to utilise was their relative position compared to Italy, an astoundingly weak attempt to convince the reader that Scotland should be selected for the chop over the Italians. After mentioning that ‘The Six Nations is only as strong as its worst member’, he maintained that Italy have ‘the excuses’ which Scotland lack for consistently losing.

The Six Nations’ worst team is Italy without a doubt; they are 13th in the international rankings and Sergio Pariise has been carrying them for years. Just because Scotland were very poor in a couple of matches doesn’t mean that they are suddenly worse than Italy, who also lost both of their opening matches by wide margins.

Photo: samma.tv
Photo: samma.tv

This strange notion of Italy’s ‘excuses’ reeks of a hasty cover-up; their ‘excuses’ are utterly irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that they are inexperienced and naïve. What does matter is that they lose more than Scotland do, even if their performances are perceived to have improved.

In their autumn internationals, Italy lost to Australia by 30 points and only scraped past Fiji. How could it possibly be reasonable to dump out Scotland based on a year of bad form and leave in a side which has collected 9 of the 13 Wooden Spoons dished out since the Six Nations began, just because they have ‘excuses’?

The answer is not to evict Scotland, but to revolutionise their approach to the sport. Many articles have bemoaned the inadequacy of their clubs, of which only Edinburgh and Glasgow are notable.

Another common gripe is with head coach Scott Johnson, which is totally justified. In fact, the man should be fired immediately because Scotland will never improve with him at the reigns.

Johnson looks like the sort of the man whom you would approach if you had a pressing emotional issue and needed to air your grievances. If your dog had just died, he might sympathise and offer you helpful advice. Most managers (e.g Sir Alex Ferguson or Stuart Lancaster) would say: ‘He’s dead, get over it.’ That might make them annoying and frightening in the dressing room, but it certainly makes them respected and it certainly gives the players the motivation to go out there and make the boss happy.

The vibe which Johnson gives is that of a coach wanting to make his players happy. His constant plea of their ‘naivety’ and his insistence that ‘we have the cutting edge, we really do’ in this interview are much worse than if he had admitted that ‘we don’t have a cutting edge’.

His tactics have been bemusing as well; his refusal to pick flanker and captain Kelly Brown (one of Scotland’s best players) was bizarre and his sudden substitutions at the start of the second half were maddening. Meanwhile, he keeps backing his players to ‘develop’ with the tone of a nursery school teacher whilst occasionally dropping in words such as ‘poor’ and ‘wasteful’ at the same time. Fire him and bring in someone tough. That’s the end of my Brian Moore-esque rant.

Johnson definitely hasn’t been utilising his top players effectively, with the talents of Denton, Hogg and Brown not central enough in their strategy. Last year Brown claimed the most turnovers of any player in the whole competition, Hogg impressed enough to be selected for the Lions and Denton made a powerful debut impact.

This year, Brown needs to actually be on the pitch so that he can secure the turnovers, Denton needs to be given the ball in hand whenever possible and Hogg could be brought up to fly-half to remove the woeful kicking of Duncan Weir from the equation (get rid of him as well, he perpetuates Scotland’s poor attacking approach).

Photo: espnscrum.com
Pirate Jim Hamilton. Photo: espnscrum.com

The other two problems are much more basic; firstly, the rest of the team aren’t good enough and secondly, Scotland’s unbending defensive outlook in matches is not getting them results.

The Scottish side is full of overrated and/or shoddy players. Even Richie Gray is not exempt, given his tendency to stumble fearfully into contact as if anxious of the grass. ‘Big’ Jim Hamilton is a blundering pirate-resembling oaf who constantly gives away stupid penalties, Greig Laidlaw’s box kicking is poor enough to offset his accurate penalties and the other backs are rarely creative enough to break the opposing line.

The main issue does seem to be their defensive platform, which they have upheld for far too many years : if they do win against top nations, it is because they kicked penalties and held the fort at the other end. No other country is so obsessed with doing this, because they possess the mathematical ability to understand that seven points is more than three, so tries are more important.

Scotland’s 12-8 win over Ireland last year was a typical example: four Greig Laidlaw penalties and a fully-functioning defence edged them over the line. England’s Brad Barritt played in a similar way last year, which is probably why he was subsequently dropped!

Kicking Scotland out of the Six Nations will achieve nothing but misery, less watchable rugby and a bunch of whiners crying that such an attitude was spawned by the Independence debate. As it always has been, the backstage preparation is the most important issue.

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