Dan Parks’ up and under in the last five minutes of the crucial Scotland vs England clash brought memories of Ireland’s thirteen man lineout against Argentina in 1999 surging back.
At least with Gatland’s tactic Ireland planned on keeping the ball, even if we didn’t know what to do with it. Scotland needed to win by eight points, and their best idea was to kick away the ball … a bankrupt option. It showed:
a] that Parks is a poor decision-maker under pressure, as earlier attested to by his rushed drop-goal against the Argentines;
b] that he had no faith that his outside backs would be able to do anything with it, even make a bit of ground and retain possession;
c] that Gregor Townsend is a poor attack coach whose team have only scored tries in one game out of four [vs Romania];
d] all of the above.
The Scots should have done better in this game. They should have won it, and even had a reasonable chance of winning it by the requisite eight points. With that said, the Mole’s personal opinion would be that if they had only needed to win the game, and not win by a defined margin, they more than likely would have done so.
It’s a desperately disappointing ending for them, as an awful lot of their play was very, very good. Great tackling, great work at the breakdown and at the ruck, very good set-pieces and a lot of variation up front. This is twice in two weeks that they have conceded a late, late try in games where they have largely been the front-runners. Losing like that once is unfortunate; losing like that twice looks like … what? Carelessness? Self-doubt?
I’m not sure whether the losses are due to a lack of concentration, squad depth, or belief. A lack of concentration is probably the reason given on the ground, and maybe the players accept that as the cause. Squad depth? They’ve got some cracking players on the bench in Ross Rennie, Chris Cusiter and Nathan Hines, but some very ordinary ones as well – sub hooker Scott Lawson and prop Alasdair Dickinson wouldn’t make it into any other Six Nations squad, nor would they make either the Georgian or Romanian front row. Belief is the fuzziest of the options the Mole can offer, but it may well be the most correct.
There are very few players in that Scotland team who have won anything in professional rugby. Nathan Hines has a Heineken Cup medal from his recently ended spell in Leinster – where he’ll be badly missed – but I can’t see any other players in there who have won a Celtic League, or a Premiership, or a Bouclier or a Heineken Cup, never mind a Six Nations.
In contrast, the English team has a number of players [Thompson, Shaw, Moody, Wilkinson] who have a World Cup winner’s medal back at the ranch, and are coming off the back of a Six Nations title. France took a Grand Slam in 2010 and have a high percentage of players who have won either the Bouclier or the H-Cup, some with multiples of both [all those Toulouse lads, for example – Servat, Poux, Millo-Chlusky, Dusautoir, Medard, Heymans, Clerc] while Ireland have HEC medal-winners up the wazoo – its provinces being the current holders of both that cup and the Celtic league trophy – and took home the Six Nations trophy with a slam in 2009. Even the Welsh, for all their ups and downs, have won two Grand Slams in the recent enough past.
The Scots just don’t have the experience of winning. The only way you can get that experience is by breaking the cycle, and getting over the line. How is it done? Keeping the good things – a very able first string pack, a number of quality backrows and a great supply of scrum-halves – and axing the conservatives.
Dan Parks has to go. Chris Paterson, a great servant, has to go. Tim Visser will be eligible in June 2012, having just turned 25. Rory Lamont needs to be brought into the side full time at fullback, and talented nipper Mark Bennett shouldn’t be tainted by choosing to play for Clermont Auvergne rather than Glasgow. Nick de Luca bears the stench of failure around him like a cloud – he’d be for the axe immediately under a Mole regime.
The first person to buy it, however, would be Gregor Townsend. I’m not convinced at all that he’s even a capable attack coach, never mind a good one. 4 tries in 5 games in the 2009 Six Nations [his first tournament as attack coach], 3 tries in 5 games in the 2010 tournament, 6 tries in 5 games in 2011 and 4 tries in 4 games in RWC11. That is an appalling try-scoring record: 17 tries in 19 games, not even averaging one try per game. If that’s not the attack coach’s responsibility, I don’t know what is.