Scotland defence chief Steve Tandy outlines disciplinary touchstones ahead of Calcutta Cup clash

If restricting the penalty count to single figures is generally considered to be key to keeping your head above water in international rugby then Scotland did well to swim against the tide during the Autumn Nations Series.

Gregor Townsend’s side won three of their four matches, losing only to South Africa when they were penalised a whopping 15 times.

In the games they won, Scotland conceded nine penalties against Tonga (who gave away 12), 12 against Australia (15) and 11 against Japan (nine).

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It made for a total of 47 and an average of 11.75 and defensive guru Steve Tandy will look to lower that figure in the forthcoming Guinness Six Nations.

Zander Fagerson was sent off in Scotland's narrow home defeat by Wales in last season's Guinness Six Nations. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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It’s not an exact science, of course, and the Scotland coaching staff’s chief concern will be kicking their campaign off with a victory over England in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Nevertheless, Townsend, Tandy and Co will be mindful of the way the South Africa game ran away from Scotland in the second half in November as the home side were penalised over and over again.

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The world champions made hay and the six penalties they kicked in the 30-15 victory proved the difference after Stuart Hogg and Makazole Mapimpi had each scored two tries.

In short, discipline will be key when Eddie Jones’ side ride into town.

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South Africa's Frans Steyn kicks one of South Africa's six successful penalties during the 30-15 win over Scotland in the autumn. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)

“It depends on what the game is, how much ball you have got but yeah, you want to keep it in single figures to keep the momentum down,” said Tandy of the penalty count.

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“We don’t want to give a team like England easy field position. We don’t want to give anything free to England as we know how good a team they are and they can hurt us. We are very conscious of how smart we have to be around the breakdown area.”

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Keeping 15 men on the field is also something Scotland will strive for during this season’s championship after two of their players were shown red cards last year. Zander Fagerson was sent off in the home defeat by Wales after he was adjudged to have made contact with the head of Wales prop Wyn Jones while entering a ruck. Fagerson was given a four-week suspension, although it was reduced on appeal and the tighthead ended up missing only one Scotland game, against Ireland.

Scotland were reduced to 14 men but came back to win after Finn Russell was sent off against France in Paris last season. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)
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Six weeks later, Finn Russell was dismissed nine minutes from the end of Scotland’s victory against France after catching Brice Dulin near the throat with his elbow as he attempted to fend off the France full-back.

Neither offence was malicious but Tandy knows how important it will be to stay on the right side of the referees over the next couple of months.

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“In the last Six Nations we were pretty unfortunate with the red cards,” said the Scotland defence coach. “There is not a lot that the boys should have done.

“I agree with the new laws about rolling away. It does get enhanced and we have to look at what we do as the referees have to be really hard to get that speed of ball and it is something that we will focus on and will be making sure we don't give opportunities for the referee to give penalties against us.”

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