SCOTLAND will not change their scrummaging style in the wake of being almost penalised out of Saturday’s game with Wales, because they expect a very different challenge in their final RBS Six Nations game in Paris.
The Scottish scrum has come in for criticism after it conceded a series of free-kicks and penalties at Murrayfield on Saturday, which contributed significantly to Wales’ 28-18 victory.
The Welsh were no better than Scotland in most areas of the game, but “played” referee Craig Joubert well and benefited from and kicked more penalties. They have won more penalties and free-kicks (14) than any other team in the championship, as outlined in the tournament statistics table, right.
It is widely felt that the fault lay not with Scotland’s style of scrummaging, but with the team’s failure to react on the pitch to various tricks employed by the experienced Welsh front row, and the failure of South African referee, Craig Joubert, to realise he was being conned.
“I’m not going to start blaming the referee,” said the forwards skills coach, Stevie Scott “but we won’t change what we’re doing because we’re going to France to face a team that has front-row forwards who love scrummaging. Scotland has a very good scrum. In the games leading into last weekend we put other teams under a lot of pressure. I thought the Scotland game with Italy featured the best scrummaging contest I’ve seen in international rugby for a long time so we’re really looking forward to this weekend.
“Let’s not blame the referee. If we were playing Wales again then obviously things would need to change. Scotland’s scrum against Wales the next time we play will be very interesting.
“But we’re playing France, who we’ve identified have a very good scrum and are quick at the engagement and that suits how we want to scrum.
“There might be some slight adjustments with individuals, but not as a collective group. Our make-up and build-up in the scrum will stay the same.”
The referee this weekend is Welshman Nigel Owens and Scott insisted that he did not expect that to have a major bearing on how the scrums go in the Stade de France. He expects them to return to their “raison d’etre” – as a contest for the ball and a stable platform from which to attack. And, for that reason, he did not feel that the Scots scrummage required an overhaul.
“We do profiles on referees the same as every other team does, and so we know what areas he is hard on and not hard on, but every referee gets treated the same way.
“I personally think they [scrums] are better. I wouldn’t say they’re spot-on. But there are fewer re-sets, they’re not holding the players as long because they’ve taken out the middle word [pause], and I think it’s sharpened the scrums up and they are more balanced now.”
So, does Scott really believe that there will not be a plethora of scrum free-kicks and penalties in the final round of games in the championship, that other sides will not look to mimick Wales – certainly when it comes to playing against Scotland – and that the worrying move towards farce that we have witnessed in recent seasons may abate?
“The French won’t [copy Wales]. That is not in the French mentality. France have turned over 12 of the opposition’s 28 scrums through the pressure of scrummaging, so they are a team that will be scrummaging against us. That will never change in French rugby. They love the scrum and driving maul, it’s bred into them.
“As for the penalties, that’s something that needs to be managed. Look, we want to scrum, let’s not get away from that. Do they [Wales]? We have a real pride and passion in our scrum. We feel it’s a powerful weapon. It’s been getting penalties for us, as have driving mauls. Scrums are still the best place to attack from because you’ve got 16 players in a tight position on the field. I’m confident that we’ll see that and you will see a scrum contest this weekend.”
There is a sense with Scotland having struggled to free up their dangerous back three of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland and Tim Visser, and France struggling to free up any players in their worst Six Nations Championship to date, that both sides will worry less about undermining the other in the final game of the tournament, and seek simply to express themselves, not unlike the occasion in 1999 when Scotland won their last Five Nations Championship after scoring five tries in a sensational first half.
For that to happen, however, there is another key area of the game that falls predominantly under the forwards remit, the tackle area, that Scotland need to sharpen up if they are to enjoy quick ball and bring some momentum to an attack that has been on the back foot for most of the past two games.
John Barclay is back in the training squad but, although he has featured for Glasgow recently, Scott hinted that he was not yet felt to be fully match-fit to start for Scotland after two months out injured.
The team will be confirmed today with many hoping to see the “Killer Bs” of Barclay, Johnnie Beattie and Kelly Brown reunited. Scott agreed that the coaches might have liked a fully-fit Barclay too, or Ross Rennie or Chris Fusaro, all specialist opensides currently injured, but he praised the work of Brown, as one of the tournament’s leading turnover experts.
“The breakdown [tackle area] is the biggest part of the game now,” he said. “We maybe have 12-18 scrums and lineouts, and you have treble the amount of breakdowns so it’s an area every team focuses on, and we work on our breakdown in every single session.
“It comes down to how much ball you have as well, and we’ve not had much, but I think our breakdown is improving, and if we get some ball and decent territory, and get the gain-line – that’s the key bit – then the breakdown will be far easier.
“Barclay would be up for selection, but he’s just come back. He’s in the squad which shows how strong he is, and he’ll be up for selection.”
He added: “We put the Welsh work to bed this morning and now everyone is looking at France and how we take our game forward.”