10 lessons the Tests have taught us
WELL, TWO out of three ain't bad as the old saying goes and Andy Robinson would probably have settled for that before the start of the autumn series. Yesterday was a reminder that Scotland have work to do but at least they have a decent base to build upon after that Wallaby win. Back in November 2002, Ian McGeechan's side beat the Springboks at Murrayfield only to lose seven of the ten matches leading up to the World Cup in 2003.
This squad needs to kick on ahead of a Six Nations tournament that looks ever more competitive.
Robinson's hand will be strengthened by several players coming back into contention before February. Meanwhile a number of younger players have been given invaluable game time in the international arena. Kyle Traynor, Richie Vernon, Alex Grove and Alan MacDonald will all be better for dipping their toe in Test match waters.
Scottish fans will look forward to the game against France on Sunday, 4 February with a little more optimism than seemed possible a few weeks back.
Here are some lessons we've learned from the autumn series:
1 Andy Robinson can coach a bit
We suspected as much after his efforts with Edinburgh but now we know the truth of it. Robinson has the respect of the players but he has plenty of work still to do.
2 Scotland the brave
It's worth putting the defensive effort against Australia into context. When the Scots beat England back in 2006 they hardly saw the ball and had to make 112 tackles. Against the Wallabies the count reached 129 (like for like) and the tackle success rate was 96 per cent which is phenomenal given the exhausting number that were made.
3 Nice defence, shame about the attack
Defence is the easy part to get right, attack is the tricky half of the equation. Scotland have a lot to learn with the back division contributing just one try in 240 minutes of autumn rugby and even that was the result of a knock on by Sean Lamont that fell kindly for Graeme Morrison. Scotland made one clean break against Fiji, none against Australia. The blame does not rest with Gregor Townsend alone but he needs to learn his trade by coaching every week at club level. Rob Moffat has experience, he worked well with Robinson at Edinburgh and he should be pressed into duty with the Test match backs in time for the Six Nations.
4 Crowds do a vanishing act
The Scottish fans who did turn up made a great noise whenever the team gave them something to shout about but where were the rest of them? The crowd for Fiji was 15,000 down on when the islanders last appeared at Murrayfield and only 44,000 punters watched that historic victory over Australia, 20,000 less than saw the same opposition back in 2006. After the Wallaby win, a few more made the effort to watch the Pumas than last time round. The three matches attracted about 30,000 fewer fans than might have been expected at the cost of almost half a million pounds.
5 The SRU hits the back of the net… their own
I received a two-page explanation from the SRU setting out exactly why they won't open turnstiles on match day and I still think the policy is wrong. Someone at Murrayfield needs to use their imagination to understand the anger and frustration of a group of friends who decide at the last minute to go to the match only to be told they can't buy tickets for a stadium that is half full. Murrayfield won't see them again for a decade.
6 Big is not always beautiful
Martin Johnson sat in the Twickenham stand with a face like thunder but what else could he expect after picking the twin giants of Ayoola Erinle and Matt Banahan in the backs. This was the ultimate triumph of strength and size over skill and subtlety taken to its illogical conclusion. In Scotland's final Test Graeme Morrison gave way to Ben Cairns and Thom Evans nipped in ahead of Simon Danielli, while little man Shane Williams scored two cracking tries against the Pumas for Wales. Is the worm finally turning?
7 Allez Les Blues
When the French forwards get the bit between their teeth they are a rampaging force of nature and nothing on earth can stop them. In Toulouse they not only beat the Springboks but they beat them up too. Bakkies Botha and Victor Matfield both needed treatment in the most physical match of the entire autumn series.
8 No one is irreplaceable
Ronan O'Gara has ruled the roost for so long in Ireland that he is part of the fixtures and fittings. No longer. Jonathan Sexton replaced him against Fiji and South Africa to good effect. In similar fashion Alan MacDonald gives Andy Robinson options at seven, Dwayne Peel offers Warren Gatland an alternative to Mike Phillips at nine and Matt Banahan… no, as you were, only joking.
9 European scrummaging is in rude health
Moray Low dismantled the Fijian scrum at Murrayfield, the French duo of Nicolas Mas and Fabien Barcello, in only his third year as a pro, made a mess of South Africa's big men in Toulouse and Italy had the All Blacks on the rack in the San Siro. Incidentally how could referee Stuart Dickinson sin bin Kiwi prop Neemia Tialata five metres from the New Zealand try line and not award Italy a penalty try after eight scrums were dropped? Eight!
10 The world champions are vulnerable
The Springboks are world and Tri-Nations champions and they beat the Lions but somehow they still managed just one win on tour (against Italy) while losing midweek matches to Leicester and Saracens. France beat them which was a small surprise but Ireland also stunned the Boks yesterday. It has to be a good thing for the world game if the team that plays the most negative rugby on the planet then loses four of their five matches.
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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