The victory in Llanelli last October laid to rest one particularly bogey, and the result at Twickenham at the weekend proved Scotland under Gregor Townsend are getting a taste for smashing hoodoos.
But it wasn’t just Scottish rugby which got a massive boost in the first round of the 2021 Six Nations; the Welsh also got off to a winning start, defeating Ireland 21-16 in a tense encounter.
The victory has lifted spirits in the Principality after a miserable year in which Wales went from Grand Slam champions in 2019 under Warren Gatland to a side capable of beating only Italy under Pivac in last season’s Championship.
Ritchie watched the Cardiff match unfold and was impressed by the men in red.
“They looked a better team than they looked in the autumn. They are certainly more physical and they are developing their game and trying to play a bit more,” said the Edinburgh forward.
“They are a bit more direct than we have seen them. Wales will be hurting from that game in the autumn. We know the threat they can pose and we hope that we are ready for the game come Saturday.”
Ritchie was part of a superb team performance at Twickenham in which the back-row forwards were fundamental to the 11-6 win. He expects another searching examination of their credentials in Edinburgh on Saturday, where Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson are likely to be up against Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau.
“They are renowned as a defensive team and they are developing their attack. For us it is about doing our due diligence and preparing as well as we can for that,” said Ritchie.
“They have some great players, especially in the back row. Josh Navidi had his first game back in a while so it is good to see him back and he was playing well. Guys like Tipuric and Faletau, they are world class players. We need to be aware of that.”
Navidi made a big impression against Ireland after replacing the injured Dan Lydiate in the 14th minute. The Cardiff Blues man was making his first international appearance in over a year and looks certain to retain his place against Scotland, with Lydiate ruled out long term with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
“I rate these guys extremely highly,” Ritchie said of the Welsh back-row trio.
“I think Tipuric is probably one of the best players I’ve played against in a 7 v 7 face-off. I was up against him when Edinburgh played the Ospreys a couple of years ago and he’s a world-class operator.
“And we all know what Faletau can do. He’s had a couple of years out but he’s been hitting a bit of form recently. And Josh has just come back but he looks like he’s never been away. These guys are all great players and I look forward to going up against them on Saturday.”
Scottish and Welsh back rows featured prominently most experts’ composite teams of the weekend. Ian McGeechan’s Lions XV based on the first round of Six Nations matches had Ritchie at six and Watson and seven, while L’Equipe’s selection had Watson, Tipuric and Matt Fagerson filling the back-row berths.
Ritchie feels the six-seven-eight combination is working well for Scotland.
“We’ve played together as a trio quite a few times now and we’re starting to get a feel for how each other works,” he said. “I thought Matt especially played outstandingly well at the weekend.
“I love playing with Hamish. What he brings is his carrying ability and his dynamism is second to none. His work at the breakdown is outstanding. I think we complement each other really well, we’ve played a lot of rugby together and I really enjoy it.”
The defeat of England ended Scotland’s 38-year wait for a victory at Twickenham and the momentous achievement was celebrated by the players, although not perhaps with the gusto such an occasion merited. The ongoing pandemic and the proximity of the Wales game made sure of that.
“We got a few beers in the changing room after the game and then were all back in the hotel and it was nice to enjoy each other’s company,” said Ritchie.
“We’re all aware we were on such a high on Saturday. But we also made it clear we had an opportunity to go again and hopefully do something even more special. We know this is just the start and now we have an opportunity to take on Wales and hopefully we can win that as well.
“We’ve put ourselves in a position to do something that we haven’t done for a while – I think in the last 20 years we’ve won the first game of the Six Nations maybe three times [before Saturday]. So we’ve put ourselves in a position to go on and do something special but we’re only as good as our next game so I think for us it’s concentrating on Wales coming up at the weekend.
“It’s the start of the tournament and we want to do as well as we can. We won the first game but it’s gone now and we enjoyed it at the time now it’s on to the next one. That’s our mindset and we need to focus on the Wales game coming up and do the best we can.”