With the Northern Hemisphere season now done and dusted till September, we hand out our verdict on the Six Nations Competitors and what we feel they got out of their year on a score out of ten.
We’ll be the first to admit it’s completely subjective based on what we saw and where in our humble opinions it leaves the teams heading into the 2018/2019 season, with the added twist of the World Cup being only a year away once England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales get back to business in September. We highlight the match we most enjoyed from each of the teams and we try to pick the player who made the greatest contribution to their national cause over the past season as well as the player that we feel is most likely to catch the eye in the next. So take from it what you will but without any further ado let’s get into it in Part 3 where we take a look at how Scotland fared.
Scotland – 7/10
Scotland have consistently gone from strength to strength in the last eighteen months. The departure of former Coach Vern Cotter at the end of the 2017 Six Nations, had many wondering if the renaissance he’d brought to Scottish rugby could continue under his successor Gregor Townsend. The short answer to that would appear to be that such concerns were completely unfounded! Townsend saw his side finish strongly in this year’s Six Nations, after a very successful November series of home Internationals, and end the year with a satisfying tour of the Americas which saw plenty of development in terms of depth. Scotland are a contender make no mistake, and they are more than capable of making it to a semi-final berth in Japan next year.
Scotland’s season got off to an encouraging start in November with a high scoring win against Samoa, but despite the victory it was a confusing and at times unsettling performance for Scotland and their fans. Scotland were leading 32-10 at the fifty minute mark. Somehow though in the next 15 minutes they would let Samoa right back into it as the Pacific Islanders would score two tries. The final quarter of the match was a frenetic affair with both sides seemingly scoring at will and Samoa in it right till the death. Given that 11 tries were scored and Scotland bagged six of them, it was worrying that Scotland found it so hard to put Samoa out of the game until literally the final whistle. Defensively at times they looked naive, a trait which has caught them napping more than once this year.
Scotland clearly spent a lot of time looking at the video footage of the match and the effort they put in against New Zealand the following weekend was vastly improved. For us in many ways it was Scotland’s most memorable performance of the year, despite the narrow loss. It was a thrilling match that had everyone on the edge of their seats till the final whistle. Scotland were brave in attack, but truly epic in defence. If Stuart Hogg’s desperate last-ditch pass had gone to Scottish hands in the final minute after a fantastic breakout, then Scotland would have made history. Sadly though it wasn’t to be and Scotland could only imagine what might have been. Nevertheless, it had been a thrilling performance which saw Scotland dominate the All Blacks for large chunks of the match.
Scotland’s final encounter of the November fixture list was an absolute blinder as they recorded a staggering 53-24 win over the Wallabies, who themselves were looking much improved having just beaten New Zealand a few weeks previously. Scotland completely outclassed Australia and ran in an astonishing eight tries, some of which were sublime to watch. What was even more heartening for Scottish supporters was that this was all without talismanic fullback Stuart Hogg.
The start of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign, however brought them back down to earth with a resounding thump, as Wales comfortably cruised past a Scottish side that once again looked at sixes and sevens defensively. The following week, in front of an ecstatic Murrayfield crowd, Scotland regained their groove despite being sorely tested at times by a French side clearly going through their own renaissance. Although the Scots were made to work hard, they still ended up being the better side and walked away with a hard-earned 32-26 victory. Greig Laidlaw’s boot also ensured that France would pay dearly for their growing lack of discipline in the second half. The momentum continued a fortnight later as Scotland played host to Six Nations champions England. It was the Scots first Six Nations victory over England in 10 years. Scotland opened proceedings with an emphatic first half performance that ultimately left England with too much to do.
Scotland would head out on the road for their final two encounters of the Six Nations, and despite some brave efforts the wheels started to come off the bus. They are clearly a side to be reckoned with at home, but as a travelling side they still need to convince. They were thrashed comprehensively by Ireland in Dublin, by an Irish side that was rapidly building momentum for their ultimate Grand Slam Six Nations campaign. For Scotland’s final effort in Rome, they struggled to contain a feisty Italian side desperately attempting to salvage some pride from an otherwise disappointing campaign. Scotland squeaked the win and ultimately 3rd place in the Championship, but it wasn’t pretty and once again defensive frailties and over ambitious playmaking by fly half Finn Russell almost cost them dearly.
Scotland would end the year with a tour to the Americas which saw them take a development squad to Canada, the USA and Argentina. While there were very few surprises at them walking over a hapless Canadian side, eyebrows were raised as the USA gave them a real run for their money and emerged the winners by one point. Scotland would bounce back though as they went on to demolish a rudderless Pumas side 44-15. Although they will have been unhappy with the loss to the USA, the tour unearthed plenty of new and exciting talent ahead of their final year of preparation for next year’s World Cup in Japan.
There is no question that Scotland is in a good place heading into the 2018/19 season. A strong showing in November will give their rivals plenty of food for thought. If they are able to continue that form into another positive Six Nations performance which sees continued development of some of their newer players, then Scotland should be in an excellent position to provide a real challenge in Japan.
However, doubts remain about the consistency of their defence, as well as their ability to pull off big wins away from the hallowed ground of Murrayfield. Furthermore, as talented as he is, Scottish fly half Finn Russell may not have as much of a role in Scotland’s efforts this year as he will be playing his club rugby in France. Scotland, have consistently been brilliant one week and then rather average the next. They will really need to address this in 2018/19 as well as find some depth at fly half should Russell not be able to play the kind of role they would like. This may in itself not be such bad news as we have felt that although he is a remarkable player, Russell has a tendency to be overly ambitious at times and lacks the execution needed to pull off some rather adventurous plays. Therefore if Scotland can use this coming season to find a reliable back up for Russell as well as strengthen their defensive abilities then it should be another excellent year for them. We certainly hope so, as we hold to our view that they are without a doubt one of the most exciting attacking teams in International Rugby at the moment.
Match of the year – Scotland vs Australia – Murrayfield – November 25th – Scotland 53/Australia 24
In a truly emphatic win over the Wallabies, the “new” Scotland was on display at its best. The eight try epic by the Men in Blue was enthralling to watch and the fact that they achieved it without arguably their best player, fullback Stuart Hogg, on the field says a lot about where this Scottish side is headed.
Player of the year – Stuart Hogg
We really struggled with this one as there were so many impressive performances from Scottish players across the park this season. Nevertheless, the turbocharged fullback continues to light up pitches around the globe with his extraordinary line breaks and counter attacks. Hogg guarantees excitement and unpredictability and is clearly one of Scotland’s most daunting strike threats and a perpetual headache for opposition defences.
Player to watch in 2019 – George Turner
The Hooker who really stood out on the tour to the Americas this year, made us sit up and take notice from the minute he came off the bench against Canada. He backed that up with two solid performances against the USA and Argentina. Fast, powerful and able to cover vast amounts of the park, in the best tradition of New Zealand Hooker/utility back Dane Coles, we feel there is a very bright future ahead of this young man in a Scottish jersey and hope to see more of him this season.
We’ll end this report card with some highlights of Scotland’s best match of the year against Australia, in which they showed us that they can mix it up with the Southern Hemisphere and rack up some big points in the process. Scotland mean business and with the depth they are starting to develop are only going to get better. It still may be early days, and there are still some outstanding issues as mentioned above, but Scotland will be a force to be reckoned with this season and ultimately in Japan just over a year away.
To be continued – up next England!