The Six Nations creates its own reality. Teams that routinely finish with a high winning percentage but do not win Grand Slams aren’t “great” – think turn of the century England and noughties Ireland – while average teams that win a Grand Slam – think Mike Ruddock’s Wales – have greatness thrust upon them. These examples should be qualified. Both the England and Ireland sides in question finally got over the line and won a Grand Slam, earning greatness. Wales won a total of 4 games from 20 in the two seasons both before and after their 2005 Grand Slam.
The distorting prism of the Six Nations also means that conclusions are drawn from a small sample set and that opinions are skewed based on national interest. The sizable media focus on the event serves to enshrine these opinions as facts in the mind of the general rugby public. Whiff of Cordite wrote an excellent piece about Ireland having small backs and no genuine openside. This was a Bad Thing and you only had to look at Wales, and listen to George Hook, for proof.
The case for the defence calls forward Andy Robinson’s Scotland. Not only one, but two, top quality opensides and a monstrous backline with size and pace. So who do you think will win on Sunday? France. Everyone says France.
Scotland have many of the constituent parts of a very good team but have lost their opening two games after failing to qualify for the quarter finals of the World Cup. The Mole thought the Scots were unlucky in the World Cup. Paterson’s appalling attempt at a tackle on Amorosino let Argentina steal a game that the Scots had earned, while Ruaridh Jackson’s injury and the teeming rain meant that they couldn’t play the sort of game against England that it seemed Robinson had intended on. Their toothlessness against England and Wales was shocking and serious question marks hang over Townsend, in particular, and to a lesser degree Robinson.
Scotland face a French team that looks ominously strong. Dmitri TooSexy starts ahead of Granite Servat but PSA has done what Lievremont consistently failed to do and picked all his best players in their preferred position. Having surmounted the first obstacle, can PSA get his troops to perform as they are capable? The answer is that he probably can’t. Jacques Fouroux sought to Anglicise the French rugbyman in the 80s by installing discipline in a monster pack then allying it with Gallic flair. He never fully succeeded and no one since has either. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what pace PSA’s France can introduce to their game. Wales have set the benchmark for attacking rugby but four springtime matches means that France might match them.
In a weekend where Owen Farrell starts at ten, five years after his Dad was selected in the same position in the 2007 World Cup, Andy Robinson has kept Duncan Weir on the bench. Laidlaw had a reasonable game against Wales but Weir looks set to be Scotland’s ten for the next decade. First and foremost, Weir scores points and that is something that Scotland find difficult to do. The Mole was hoping to see Weir start a number of games in this year’s championship. His ascent will have to wait until Scott Johnson arrives to teach the Scots how to pass.
This lack of point scoring ability means that Scotland will lose another home game although they’ll make it close. France won’t look as threatening as Wales but have a number of other attributes that promise to make the final weekend in Cardiff a Grand Slam shoot out. And, of course, Andy Robinson will continue to get amusingly agitated by the peculiar reality of a Six Nations weekend.