Has flair has been sacrificed at the altar of better defence?
The stats speak for themselves. Scotland had the meanest defence in the Six Nations, conceding the fewest points (59) and tries (5) and that form has been largely carried into the Autumn Nations Cup. Changes to the coaching staff in the aftermath of last year’s World Cup focused on bolstering the defence, and it has worked. But has it come at a cost? The freewheeling Scotland of Gregor Townsend’s early years seems a distant memory. In successive seasons, Scotland put 53 points past Australia, 44 past Argentina and scored six tries against England at Twickenham. Tries from buccaneering backs seem in short supply these days, with the forwards more likely to be on the scoresheet. The absence of Finn Russell has been a major factor. Apart from 31 minutes in Llanelli, the stand-off has been absent this year and his creative spark has been sorely missed.
Stuart Hogg needs to stretch his legs
Apart from his last-gasp gaffe against France, the Scotland captain has been an astute performer during the autumn Tests. His preference for kicking to the corner has yielded important tries at key times as the Scots utilised their new favourite tactic, the driving lineout maul. But it seems a long time since we saw Hogg running at full pelt with ball in hand. The full-back was asked the other day if he missed scoring tries. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “We’re winning Test matches and that’s what we’re here to do.” Fair point but it would be nice to see Hogg utilising that wonderful pace before the international window shuts.
Duncan Weir deserves to play in the final Nations Cup game
Edinburgh stand-off Jaco van der Walt is eligible to play in Scotland’s final Autumn Nations Cup match after fulfilling the three-year residency criterion and quarantining on his return from his native South Africa. With Russell and Adam Hastings both injured, Townsend is light on options at ten but Duncan Weir has done a fine job against both Italy and France. His goalkicking in particular has been exemplary, landing four out of four conversions in Florence and five out of five penalties against the French. The Worcester man has waited patiently for his Scotland recall and it would be harsh in the extreme if he lost out to van der Walt next month.
Scotland still have an outside chance of making the final
The defeat by France leaves Scotland relying on Italy to pull off the mother of all upsets if Townsend’s side are to reach the Autumn Nations Cup final. The final Group B match takes place at the Stade de France on Saturday night and if the Italians can defeat the hosts it will open the door for Scotland to win the section. But don’t bet the house on it. Italy have not beaten a Six Nations side since 2015 and have defeated France just twice in the Six Nations era, both times in Rome, in 2011 and 2013. Their only win on French soil came in Grenoble in 1997.