This Scotland team is capable of dizzying, adventurous rugby amid the game's dull dogs

Here was a time when we tended to beat Australia at rugby, then one when we always seemed to lose, often heavily. More recently we have won more often than not.

Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe (left) and Darcy Graham have the potential to score tries against the world's best teams.
Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe (left) and Darcy Graham have the potential to score tries against the world's best teams.

This probably says as much about Australian as Scottish rugby. There was a period of some 20 years – 1983 to 2003 – when the Wallabies might claim to be one of the best teams in the World. In 1983/84, on the last of the long tours, they whitewashed the Five Nations countries. They won two of the first four World Cups, and lost the 2003 final to England in the last minute. They had reached that final by beating the All Blacks in the semi.

There were Wallaby stars then who would have been selected for a World XV almost without question; Mark Ella, Nick Farr-Jones, David Campese, Michael Lynagh, John Eales, George Smith. There have been many very good players since – one thinks of David Pocock recently and Michael Hooper, their former captain who is back in the team after a period of absence. Nevertheless, few Aussie teams have glittered as those of the last two decades of the 20th century did. Then, if they weren’t always the best, they were usually the most exciting.

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Now Campese, never ore short of an opinion, has been bewailing the style of rugby played today: too much coaching and pre-programmed play, not enough imagination and adventure. There are players he still enjoys watching; he named South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe and our own Finn Russell, at present absent – one hopes only temporarily – and also the French half-backs Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, whose father indeed played against Campese. In general though, he thinks the present lot are dull dogs, and I confess that I would sometimes reluctantly agree.

Last weekend, for instance, I watched the first half of the match between Exeter Chiefs and Saracens. The security of the handling was remarkable, the commitment intense. But it was for the most part dreadfully dull stuff: pass, charge, take the tackle, re-cycle, pass, charge and so on. You felt it might continue till the crack of doom. One longed for a moment of imagination, for a player ready to forget coaching instructions. Not much chance of that.

Let us hope that today’s match – weather permitting – offers more in the way of entertainment. Of course, there’s a trophy of some sort to be won – there always is these days. But the fact that I can’t remember what it is called suggests less that I’m failing than its unimportance.

Scotland certainly have picked a team capable of some dizzying adventurous rugby. Most tries in the game may now be scored by hookers coming off a rolling maul, which is very commendable, no doubt, and in important matches cause for joy when it’s your man scoring. But if the forwards do their work efficiently and can deliver clean quick ball, then there should be some excitement. I doubt if we have often – perhaps ever – fielded two wings with as keen an eye for the try-line as Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe. They make a nice contrast and ask different questions of the opposition, but, if Darcy is as nimble and hard to grasp as a ferret, Duhan is surprisingly light-footed for a man of his size; and if he has the power of a Sherman tank, Darcy can break as well as side-stepping tackles. Moreover, at 13 we have Mark Bennett, a centre with an eye for any misalignment in the opposition defence and as quick-footed as the great Jim Renwick was.

Finally, if Blair Kinghorn isn’t a magician like Finn Russell on his good days, his development since Mike Blair moved him from the back three to fly-half has surprised many. He is a fast and powerful runner who asks questions of defences, and if his passing and kicking in attack, though both agreeably imaginative, too often lack accuracy still, his improvement over the last 12 months suggests there may be more to come.

In the regrettable absence of the injured Rory Darge, we still have a strength in the vital area that is the back row, and today’s trio Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson and the new captain Jamie Ritchie is good enough to invite comparison with some of the fabled back-rows of the distant past.