March 9, 2012
Posted on 03/09/2012
Tired of Waiting
Scotland travel to Dublin this weekend fairly safe in the knowledge that they can win there. Last time our team visited the Emerald Isle in 2010, Dan Parks spoiled the Croke Park leaving-do with a last minute penalty and snatched a win that while close on the scoreboard, was more than deserved.
So far in this tournament, Scotland have been nothing if not deserving, but have - as in the rest of the 2010 tournament - failed to get any sort of victory other than a hefty pocketful of moral victories. Those are something of a speciality round these parts.
On that day in 2010, Graeme Morrison had one of his finest hours (and a half) in a Scotland shirt and despite being another figure that often garners controversy here for his perceived unwillingness to pass the ball going forward, in terms of marshalling the midfield defensive effort he is without rival in the squad. He also played very well two weeks ago against the heavyweight French midfield and we'll be hoping for more of the same this weekend. His partner (in crime?) Nick De Luca also had one of his better days and will hope this continues in a positive vein. No more silly mistakes, please.
Scotland will want to play fast and loose as usual, and without Dan Parks on the pitch there might be a few less chances for Tommy Bowe to run in easy interceptions. Stuart Hogg will relish playing against Rob Kearney but the Irish back three will most likely want to assert dominance under the high ball. It could be a long afternoon for Jones and Hogg, neither being the tallest. Sean Lamont, restored to wing, will be hungry for work though.
This weekend we have a handy looking bench, but a familiar one. The main bone of contention among fans is that Andy Robinson has stalled his new-blood policy and dropped promising fly-half Duncan Weir from the bench in favour of Ruaridh Jackson, who played pretty well in the World Cup but has largely been injured since then. Jackson can be a fine player, but his kicking can also go dangerously awry, and Laidlaw's range is not that of Sexton or O'Gara. Neither of those boys are that handy with a drop-goal. Weir, on the other hand, is a useful kicker.
In 2010 the game was won with a last-gasp penalty; the likely absence of Laidlaw to kick come the end of the game suggests Scotland may have to put the game to bed before then this time around. Not one of our strong suits.
The Irish come off a draw with France last weekend and a short turnaround, while Scotland have rested. There's a lot of talk about fitness being a factor, but the key to beating the Irish may not lie there, despite the positive messages coming out of camp about our edge in this department. Several of our talismans have looked pretty tired in the later stages of games so far. The lip-readers amongst you will have spotted England scrum-half Lee Dickson encouraging his forwards late in the Calcutta Cup match with words along the lines of "they are knackered over there".
That was in the opening game.
Captain Ross Ford, Richie Gray and David Denton have had to run themselves into the ground simply so the team can remain competitive in a match. It is international rugby, that is what they should do. But lack of depth in certain areas (front row, midfield), still forces some to do more than they should and can lead to the lapses in concentration we have seen, from either tired players or over-eager replacements.
Most likely Scotland will be as tired as Ireland are.
Whether Scotland's offloading game can get around Irish "choke tackling" (not as nasty as it sounds) remains to be seen. If you are looking for a unit that could walk into a Lions test XV tomorrow, the Irish back row would undeniably be it. But Denton and Rennie have done a lot so far to suggest that next year they won't be far behind in the pecking order. If you (or whoever else is coaching the Lions) wanted a real head-scratcher, try picking a 7 from Warburton, O' Brien or Ross Rennie. Kelly Brown was our first choice 6 (and captain) before the tournament but since Strokosch's injury John Barclay has finally rediscovered a bit of form and looks reasonably at home at blindside.
Keeping or slowing down ball will be key to the way both sides want to play in attack or defence. Trying to keep it in, or out, of the breakdown will also be key.
The battle in the back row on Saturday could be phenomenal, and it is most likely there that the game will be won or lost, long before everyone starts panting and holding their sides come 70 minutes.