Wow, what a game. Talk about an amazing first match to kick off the 2017 Six Nations. It had everything and the atmosphere at BT Murrayfield I could feel sitting on my sofa at home.
The power and accuracy, along with innovation, is something we have not seen from a Scotland team in years. Yes, performances have been good recently but Scotland need to start winning! And didn’t they have to work for it?
A fully deserved win for Scotland that I don’t think anyone will argue with. What it will do is make people look up and take notice now, including Lions coach Warren Gatland.
Ireland went into this game firm favourites. The result may have been a surprise to the outside world but not to the people who have watched the quality of this Scotland team and seen the players grow in stature.
The way in which Scotland attacked is the best I have seen… ever! They didn’t get many chances but when they did they took them with accuracy and control.
Finn Russell was immense, taking the ball to the line with runners running short and out the back – it caused Ireland all sorts of problems. And when Hoggy gets a one-on-one he is unstoppable. When Scotland got close to the line they were calm and used the power of Josh Strauss, Hamish Watson and the two Gray brothers.
The talk of Scotland’s performance, aside from the world-class display from Hogg, will be the defence. I have played in games when we have had to defend for huge parts of the game. I actually thought Ireland’s attack in the first half was pretty poor and predictable. Paddy Jackson was not going to the line and it was very easy for Scotland to defend, but when Ireland came head on, the power of the collisions… CJ Stander and Sean O’Brien were being smashed back by one, two and sometimes three Scotland defenders. This meant the breakdown for Ireland became slow, something they will not have been used to and probably didn’t expect.
In the second half Ireland tightened things up and they took fewer risks. Stander was getting over the gain line and Scotland started to melt under the pressure. Ireland were gathering momentum and managed to get into the lead. They enjoyed 70 per cent of possession in the second half and more line breaks: it started to look like a comeback win for Ireland was on. But unlike the clinical Scots, Ireland struggled to take the chances when they came and mattered most.
Let’s not underestimate the size of this win. In years gone by we would have folded. Scotland would have been the “nearly” team. Not this time. It was a great win and just reward for the last few years this group has put in.
It is really difficult to single players out and I often didn’t take too much notice about individual praise but I think Hamish Watson was brilliant in both attack and in defence and the impact John Barclay made was game-changing.
A special mention goes to Zander Fagerson. He made some huge carries under the radar and big tackles for a 21-year-old playing in the most difficult position on a rugby field. The scrum did creak a bit in the first half but they solved that problem later which was great to see.
The old saying of the “next biggest challenge” is gone for Scotland, it is just the next challenge. It is going to be tough in Paris of course. The scrum needs to get better and the collisions Scotland showed yesterday in that first half especially are going to need be replicated for the whole 80-minute game. But this group of players and coaches are grounded and will work hard.
Can Scotland win the Six Nations, people will start to ask. I think they can!