THIS is a season, you sense, for Scottish rugby to hold its nerve and to follow the advice, if not the manner, of Corporal Jones from Dad’s Army and try to not panic.
The optimism generated by a good showing in the autumn Test series may have given way to the kick in the guts that was the recent whitewash in the RBS Six Nations Championship. But there were enough positive signs in that competition for us to forge on deeper into World Cup year with reasons for hope.
It was clever play by Alasdair Dickinson and that’s why he’s a top proStevie Scott
The return to club action has provided a much-needed shot in the arm in the wake of that dispiriting last-day collapse which effectively handed the title to Ireland. Two games in particular stand out as examples of a tangible progression in the psyche of our teams.
The first was Glasgow’s thrilling 34-34 draw with champions Leinster in Dublin the other week and the other came on Sunday evening as Edinburgh gutsed out a 23-18 win at London Irish and book themseles a home semi-final in the European Challenge Cup.
In both these matches the Scottish sides got off to flying starts before being faced with fearsome counter-attacks from the hosts which wiped out healthy leads. In past years it is almost a given that, upon seeing hard-won points cushions evaporate before their eyes, Scottish teams would have crumbled and contented themselves with yet another addition to the swollen ledger marked “gallant defeat”.
On both these occasions, however, Glasgow and Edinburgh took the punches, steadied their legs and came back to win the final rounds. It is an encouraging and welcome development.
“I mentioned after the game to the players that old Edinburgh would have folded at that point,” reflected Edinburgh assistant coach Stevie Scott yesterday.
“I think it says a lot about the quality of the players we’ve got here now, the togetherness they have and their willingness to fight hard for each other. That showed at the end on Sunday and it’s good for the team moving forward.”
As denouements go, Sunday’s was as dramatic as they come. Trailing by five points with seconds to go, London Irish pummelled the Edinburgh line and David Paice managed to force them over as the clock went dead. The desperate Edinburgh defence got under the attacker and the view was not clear so French referee Pascal Gauzere went to the TMO. Scottish fatalism kicked in as the replays played from different angles. The next one, you feared, would show just enough to lead to the fateful try being awarded and defeat would be grasped from the jaws of victory. But no, the verdict was not proven and Edinburgh could celebrate.
“It was a tense last five minutes. We could have lost that game at the end,” admitted Scott. “But the boys showed real grit and determination to hold out.
“We’ve been in those situations before. For example, away at Dragons last season, we were down to 13 men and it went down the last play similar to Sunday. We had a scrum underneath our posts and we managed to hold out then as well so they have been in that situation.”
Scott said the players on the scene had been confident the try had been denied.
“Yeah it was held up,” said the former Scotland hooker. “Obviously if it had been the other way around we’d be claiming for the try ourselves. But if you watch the footage back there was no clear vision of the ball. Alasdair Dickinson did a superb job as he didn’t go in to make the tackle on the line. He actually dropped in underneath him to stop the ball going to deck. It was clever play and that’s why he’s a top pro and international player.”
It was another important away victory and this habit is particularly pleasing to the coaching staff.
“We are delighted with another win on the road,” said Scott. “We’ve been in France and beat a Top 14 team there (Bordeauz-Begles]. We’ve won in Ireland against Munster and Connacht, the other week we won in Wales at Scarlets and we had previously won at an English Premiership team too [London Welsh]. So that builds a lot of confidence.”
Scott says the prospect of a home semi-final against Newport Gwent Dragons a week on Friday is an exciting one for the club, but he is adamant that this Saturday night’s crucial home Guinness Pro12 match with Munster is dominating minds. Amid the euphoria of Sunday evening, there is also the recognition that it was, by no means, a perfect performance.
“I don’t think we were at our best to be honest,” he said. “The result was great but there were areas in our game we know we’ll have to get better at in what is a hugely important few weeks for us coming up.”
Meanwhile, tighthead prop Simon Berghan has extended his Edinburgh contract until May 2016. The Christchurch-born, Scottish-qualified 24-year-old joined the club last season after spells with the Canterbury Academy and Crusader Knights in New Zealand.
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