Scotland: Are They the Six Nations Sleeping Giant?
Now in his fourth full season, for the first time Frank Hadden has the luxury of players who are in form on his squad.
As Glasgow and Edinburgh proved in the Heineken Cup results, Scottish resources may not be plentiful as compared to their illustrious Six Nations rivals. But when the braves of the highlands get it right, they can compete with any team.
The Warriors victory over a Toulouse at Stade Ernest Wallon is akin to the Scottish national team inflicting a defeat on the All Blacks on the hallowed turf of Eden Park.
Glasgow is considered to be among the easy beats of the European championship. Toulouse has conquered the North three times, has not been beaten at home for two years, and carried a 15 match winning streak into a match—alongside a team boasting an entire starting XV of French internationals and former All Black Byron Kelleher—named the finest player in Europe last year.
But this all accounted for nothing for the bonnie Warriors and their coach Sean Lineen.
It wasn’t so much the 33-26 score line or the Glasgow line-up that defeated the unadulterated Toulouse might. Equally, Edinburgh’s victory over Castres, which did not attract the headlines like the miracle against Stade Toulousain, was not achieved by a glamour team.
It was the manner in which the Scottish provincial teams carried out their game plan.
When Scottish scribes speak of the way their teams play, they talk of uncertainty in their own half and a defence that waits for the opposition to run into them.
There is not so much a lack of skill in Scotland rugby ranks as much as a lack of belief.
But, they believed when they came against arguably the most awesome club team in world rugby.
It was these powers of the mind—coupled with a desire to run the ball, hold it in contact, and work through the phases that did it. No team in the world, neither the All Blacks nor the World Champion South Africans, can dominate you if they have to continually defend.
Likewise, when defending, Glasgow employed the famed rush defence. The same defence that South Africa and Wales have employed to unsettle Scotland.
The finest blitz defensive systems operate around a clued up and aggressive centres pairing. In Graeme Morrison and Max Evans, Scotland may have finally unearthed a class centre combination. With Nick de Luca and Ben Cairns from Edinburgh selected as Hadden’s centres, Scotland suddenly has surprising back-line depth.
But what about the Scottish attack? No team can win matches without attacking players. With Dan Parks' brilliant performance against Toulouse and Phil Godman (the incumbent in the autumn internationals) combining with the precocious talent of 20 year old Ruaridh Jackson, it seems that Scotland has a profusion of playmakers.
They will be fed quality pill with Mike Blair confirmed as captain. Blair, who finished 2008 as one of the premier scrum halves of world rugby, again has a competent understudy with Chris Cusiter again in form with Perpignan.
Ross Ford has been in outstanding form at Edinburgh's hooker—combining in the front row with fellow Gunner Allan Jacobson. If we throw in Euan Murray, the Northampton prop whom had the All Blacks second string forward on a leash, we will see an unexpectedly strong Scotland scrum.
The rest of the tight forwards and back row pick themselves—for it is here that we see Scotland’s great weakness (effectively only two clubs to choose from) become a strange strength. Domestic combinations are all over the team.
There are only ten players outside of the two Scottish clubs, but all of them are there on considerable merit. In particular, wings Sean Lamont (Northampton) and Simon Danielli (Ulster), have both been in imperious form.
If this belief can be transferred to the national side, and if they disregard the reputations of their more illustrious opponents, then we may see Scotland rise again as a power.
The challenge is to remember the feeling of success and translate it to the Six Nations.
Scotland Six Nations Fixtures:
8thFebruary 2009: Scotland V Wales @ Murrayfield
14th February 2009: France V Scotland @ Stade de France
28thFebruary 2009: Scotland V Italy @ Murrayfield
14th March 2009: Scotland V Ireland @ Murrayfield
21st March 2009: England V Scotland @ Twickenham
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