Lewis Moody lobbed a grenade Scotland’s way yesterday when the former England captain suggested that Warren Gatland had selected just two of Vern Cotter’s team for the Lions’ summer tour of New Zealand because of the Scots’ mental fragility, despite them winning three of their five matches in this season’s Six Nations.
Wales finished the tournament in fifth place, one place below the Scots, and still managed to get 12 players in the Lions’ initial 41-man squad.
“With the Lions there is all this expectation and pressure to perform not just on the pitch but off it as well,” Moody told the Independent. “The spotlight will be on them when they go over there against the best side in rugby with the Lions and it’s a hotbed over there and the pressure will be intensified. And I think that’s why the Scottish guys have been left out.”
Moody was particularly scathing of Scotland’s performance in the crushing 61-21 defeat by England at Twickenham.
“If they’d have won, or put in a better showing then I think we would have seen more Scots included,” the former flanker. “For me that is why the Lions selectors went the way they did because of their inability to deal with pressure in big-match situations.”
The first thing to note is that Moody, pictured below, was drumming up attention for a sponsor and saying something like this is one way to stand out from the herd. The second thing is that the Englishman has enough truth in what he says to pass muster if you happen to be driving in a hurry with your attention elsewwhere, although things are a little more complicated than he allows.
That Scotland have a problem playing England at Twickenham is not in question. The Scots have not triumphed since 1983 at the “cabbage patch”, which is longer than anywhere else on the Five/Six Nations circuit – a lot longer. Scotland’s next worst record is in Paris, another country with enormous resources, where they have not won since 1999.
But the Scots have won Test series on the road, in Japan last summer in sweltering conditions, and in Argentina in 2010. Bizarrely Scotland actually boast a better record against Los Pumas in Argentina than they do in Scotland, four wins in South America as opposed to three at home.
Nor is it Twickenham by itself that stymies the Scots because the last time they played there, before that 61-point humiliation in the Six Nations, they came within a whisker of reaching the World Cup semi-finals; one referee error depriving the Scots of a memorable victory over the Wallabies where they displayed the tenacity and determination that was repeated at least twice in the recent Six Nations.
The first occasion was when they were digging out a win against Ireland who, after bouncing back from a 21-5 first half deficit, were leading 22-21 in the third quarter after Paddy Jackson had converted his own try. With the wind in their sails, Ireland were clear favourites and the easy thing for Scotland to do would have been to fold. Instead they displayed astonishing resilience by scoring two late penalties to take the honours.
The game against Wales was almost the mirror image, the Scots trailing at half time but dominating the second 40 to keep the visitors scoreless after the break. The winning margin of 16 points did not flatter the home team; it would have been bigger but for that slow start.
Where Moody may have an element of truth is in the battle against England’s big men where too many Scots appeared overawed in a way that the Welsh and Irish rarely are; the big difference is experience although Ireland seem to have a conveyor belt of raw boned, breakaways all of whom are athletic, combative and mostly constructed of knees and elbows.
Scotland’s forward pack was green, with a 21-year-old tighthead in Zander Fagerson. Lock Jonny Gray is barely any older and both men will be a lot wiser after that sobering experience. Hamish Watson is still only 25 and the half-back pair who operated behind the scrum were 23 and 24. The majority of the team could be around for the next two World Cup cycles in which we can look forward to better results, even at Twickenham.
The challenge for this young Scots squad is to soak up the lessons that they will have learned in adversity.
The challenge for Moody is to scratch a little deeper at the subject in hand and come up with a more interesting analysis of Scotland’s national rugby team rather than tagging them with the simplistic “unable to cope under pressure” label.