Scotland coach Steve Tandy building a dark blue wall for Calcutta Cup clash

For many “the blue wall” is a political term, coined first for the Democrats in the United States and now for the Conservatives in Wales and the north and midlands of England and Wales.
Scotland coach Steve Tandy gives centre Chris Harris some instructions ahead of this weekend's Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNSScotland coach Steve Tandy gives centre Chris Harris some instructions ahead of this weekend's Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Scotland coach Steve Tandy gives centre Chris Harris some instructions ahead of this weekend's Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

It was a phrase awarded, somewhat uncomfortably for the Welshman, to Steve Tandy’s time as defence coach for the Sydney-based Super Rugby side New South Wales Waratahs last year.

Overall it wasn’t a great season for the Tahs but their defence stats were impressive and, already viewed as one of rugby’s most promising young coaches after ascending to the Ospreys top job in his early 30s, Tandy was headhunted to be Matt Taylor’s
replacement in Scotland boss 
Gregor Townsend’s post-World Cup coaching reshuffle.

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“It was more the boys, I’m not that imaginative,” said Tandy with a smile as he spoke to the media for the first time since joining the Scotland set-up.
“They [Waratahs] bought into it. They bought into defence and they were coming up with a theme. I’d have rather they kept it to themselves.”

Former Neath and Ospreys flanker Tandy was loving life Down Under and still had six months on his contract but said he couldn’t turn down the chance to move his coaching career on to the international level.

“Gregor gave me a call, I was in Sydney with the Waratahs which was an unbelievable experience and me and my family were looking to stay there for a bit longer,” he explained.

“But when the opportunity came up to coach Scotland and I saw the group, I looked at footage and saw the players, I think there’s something really exciting with Scottish rugby and as a package, it was an amazing opportunity and I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to coach an international team in Scotland.”

Defence was one of a few positive aspects to be taken from that nevertheless frustrating loss in Dublin at the weekend. Defeat is always painful but Tandy can take encouragement that his fledgling dark blue wall stemmed the emerald tide on 
a number of occasions, restricting 
the Irish to just one early Johnny 
Sexton try.

Like many, he watched with interest that remarkable game in Paris on Sunday, though he now has the unenviable task of helping devise the tactics and strategy which will keep the wounded but menacing English, with the rejuvenated French a few weeks ahead, at bay with Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash the first job at hand.

“You know what England are, you don’t get to a World Cup final without being a fantastic team,” said Tandy. “For me, defensively, it’s more about what we need to be defensively.

“We have a good idea about what England are going to bring so it’s 
making sure we’re prepared and mentally and physically, we’re going to be right for Saturday.”

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The Calcutta Cup hero of 2018, Glasgow centre Huw Jones, who scored two tries in that famous rout of Eddie Jones’s “Invincibles” at BT Murrayfield, suffered a wobble after that, with defence viewed as his Achilles heel.

He is now back in the starting side and Tandy said: “Huw has been great to work with, I think his decision-making is very good, I don’t have an issue with him Huw defensively.

“There’s things that can be tidied up, as there is with everyone, but ultimately I’ve got every confidence with him being able to defend at the weekend.”

If Jones had been viewed as a defensive weakness, then one man who never has is tackle king Jonny Gray, and the lock forward is relishing the prospect the seventh taste of Calcutta Cup battle in what is already a 56-cap career at the age of just 25.

“It will be a challenge for everyone. You just look at how well England have played over the last couple of years – and how they played in the World Cup. They’re such a good team, a world class side,” said Gray, who will leave Glasgow to join Scotland captain Stuart Hogg at Exeter Chiefs in the summer.

“You look at the players they have and the strength in depth they have. They’re well coached as well. All over the pitch, the pack they have and the backs they have, it’s going to be a huge challenge.

“They’ll be disappointed with their result against France at the weekend. But when you look at the difference between the first half and the second half, and how they got themselves back in the game, we know how tough it will be.”

It is another international camp without his older brother Richie, the Toulouse lock who opted out of the World Cup but has told Townsend he would be open to a return.

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“It would be great to see him back in. I’ve looked up to him my whole career and I wouldn’t be here without his help,” Gray said of his 30-year-old older brother, who has 65 caps for Scotland and one Test for the British and Irish Lions.

“He’s a world-class second row. The stuff he’s got to his game, attack and defence, lineout wise, general things and his workrate. You never know.”