Scotland obviously didn’t play to their potential, but the game was still in the balance right up until the end. A penalty either way or one taken opportunity and the result is totally different.
It’s always easy to get caught up in the emotion of the occasion as a Scotland supporter and I think it’s probably fair to say we experience the highs of winning probably more than most nations and balance that by plummeting lower than anyone else off the back of a loss. The reality for everyone is a win at home against France in two weeks’ time puts Scotland right back in the hunt for the Six Nations Championship.
These emotions are often exacerbated through the medium of social media. Although I do have accounts on several social media platforms, I do my very best to avoid them if I can, especially before and after a game. It has become commonplace for ‘armchair experts’ to comment sometimes directly to players on their performance, and I think it often oversimplifies both a player’s technical skill and their mental ability to make right or wrong decisions in a fraction of a second. The reality is sometimes we just make mistakes.
There was an interview on BBC with Dan Biggar before the game where he talked about the experience he now has in dealing with disappointing performances. He talked about how when you watch games back, the best ones are never as good as you think they are, and the worse ones are never as bad.
I thought Scotland started with real intent in Cardiff, right from the kick-off. They looked powerful in the carries, accurate at the breakdown which provided quick ball for the backline. The build-up to Darcy Graham’s try was more of the same. Good dynamic carrying up front, aggressive work at the breakdown. They kept the ball well, reset quickly and provided clean, quick ball which was enough to give Finn Russell a bit of space to put the ball over the top to Darcy who finished brilliantly.
I thought the first half in general was encouraging from an attacking point of view and Scotland were able to do more with the ball than they had been able to the week before against England. They managed to get into multi-phase, recycle the ball quickly in midfield so they could get the edge with the backs. Perhaps they didn’t penetrate the Welsh defensive line as well as they could have but I thought this was largely down to the Welsh defence who were unbelievably physical, particularly after half-time.
Wales seemed to control a lot of the collisions in the second half which just halted all momentum for Scotland and probably led to them going to more of a kicking game to try and turn Wales and pin them in their own half. To do this though you really have to move the backfield around and land kicks in behind them and I thought the Welsh back three, and Liam Williams in particular, dealt with Scotland’s aerial threat really well.
It’s France next at BT Murrayfield a week on Saturday and I’m sure Scotland will look for a little bit more penetration in attack or at least, a few more carries from the forwards which get in behind the French defence and make them retreat. I thought at times against Wales, more so after half-time, that Scotland’s carrying wasn’t able to get them over the gain line and in behind the Welsh defensive line.
The ability to find the seams between defenders and constantly win another half metre can be all important. It forces defenders to have to keep retreating to set the defensive line, and creates opportunities by narrowing up the defensive lines, stopping their line speed and often creating opportunities through penalty advantages because of offsides.
Defensively, Scotland just need to keep doing what they’ve been great at over the last two years, and that’s being aggressive in the contact, being able to slow the ball down and get the width in defence. They’ve shown they’ve been really hard to break down when they do that.
Wales didn’t have a particularly complicated shape in attack at the weekend. Lots of single running forwards were coming round the corner hard off No 9 with hard carries and they won a couple of collisions which got them into good field positions and generated a bit of momentum. Scotland’s ability to stop these runners behind the gain line and slow the breakdown has been pivotal to their success over the last few years so I’m certain this is an area they will look to control against France.
I spoke last week about how good Jamie Ritchie is in these types of collisions. He has the ability to slow every contact he is in for a fraction of a second and this is all that’s needed for his teammates to find their width in defence and bring line speed. Sometimes you don’t notice the amount of work certain players do until they’re not there and that’s certainly the case with Jamie.
Saturday’s loss was disappointing, but I think it’s too easy to overreact. Scotland have the players and the coaches to beat anyone in the world, they’ve shown that time and again over the last few years. The goal now is to win the next three.