Scotland must be wary of blood-stained cockerel in what is always a Six Nations classic
Scotland may not have been entirely happy with the victory in Cardiff and the collapse after we went 27-0 ahead had some of us tearing hair out as penalties were conceded, two Scots were yellow-carded and Wales scored four tries. All alarming and heart-sinking. Nevertheless, the team recovered and took a grip on the game. If the try claimed by Duhan van der Merwe had been approved, 32 (or 34)-24 would have been a fairer representation of the match. Still, it was an alarmingly close shave.
Two things should be said, however. First, Wales played some excellent stuff in that remarkable second half just as we did in that ever-memorable 38-38 match at Twickenham. Second, any away win in the Six Nations is rare, and to be cherished. Coming so close to surrendering what was on tract to being a comfortable victory may do the team no end of good. Let them repeat over and over again this watchword: “Loss of concentration loses matches.”
France come to Murrayfield licking their wounds after losing to Ireland in Marseille, a match they never threatened to win. Admittedly Ireland were very good, competent and self-assured, but France were none of these things. True, they had to play much of the game with only 14 men, but you felt that if they had had 16 on the field they would still have lost. Still, they have such a wealth of talent – proven talent – in their squad that it’s hard to believe they can be as bad again. Le Coq Francais may have been battered, but a blood-stained cockerel is a ferocious and frightening bird.
With ten Glasgow players in our starting XV, Scotland field two-thirds of a club side. This might he worrying if it wasn’t for the fact that the other five – Finn Russell, Ben White. Duhan van der Merwe, Pierre Schoeman and Grant Gilchrist have a wealth of experience as well as talent.
Scotland-France matches are nearly always good ones because both teams are eager to attack with ball in hand. Nevertheless, though there are very dangerous runners on both sides, there will be a lot of kicking because there always is now. Finn Russell, for instance, kicks much more often than he did in his Glasgow days, partly because of his several years of experience with Racing in the Top 14, partly because he reads the game much better than he did in his youth. Both teams on their day can score tries from anywhere on the field, and Damien Penaud is every bit as prolific a try-scorer as Van der Merwe. Scotland’s maul defence will surely have to be much better than it was in Cardiff but the same may be said of the French defence last week.
Both teams will also have to improve their discipline. Both were at fault in this respect last week, and most cards – yellow as well as red – come partly because passing out of the tackle or laws relating to the tackle make it sensible to tackle high in an attempt to prevent the ball-carrier from going to ground. Until the law relating to what happens after the tackle is changed, it will remain sensible to tackle high. The present law almost invites a clash of heads especially when the tackler is taller than the ball-carrier.
Forwards win matches or, to speak more harshly, forwards who come off second-best usually lose matches. Yet, as ever, much focus is directed at the half-backs. Ben White had a good came last week, while Maxime Lucu had a tough time against Ireland, descending according to Midi Olympique into “a black hole” for part of the match. Nevertheless Lucu has been shining for Bordeaux-Begles, and in reserve on the bench is the very talented youngster Nolann Le Garrec who was Finn Russell’s club partner last season. We are told that Lucu has been learning to kick off “both feet”, like Antoine Dupont, but surely they mean “either foot – not even Dupont can kick off “both” simultaneously..
Meanwhile one thinks that the fly-halves Finn Russell and the brilliant Matthieu Jalibert should be wearing black armbands of the most magical of fly-halves Barry John, who died last week. In one of the most memorable matches I’ve watch at Murrayfield on February 6, 1971 Barry was at his magical best, described by Kenneth Bogle as “bobbing and weaving his way about the field like a red phantom”. May Finn do likewise today!