Six Nations Preview and Prediction: Scotland
Home ground: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Interim head coach: Scott Johnson
Scotland’s main threat is not their players, coaches or strategies, but rather their attitude. They walk into this year’s championship with a rather ‘devil-may-care’ attitude, knowing that the fans, critics and country have low expectations following a poor autumn series and an abysmal 2012 Six Nations. The team have nothing to prove, having finished with the wooden spoon last year.
The squad features many international debutants. Interim coach Scott Johnson has picked a squad who are capable, but seems very much to be building for the future – a bold move from a man who isn’t guaranteed to be in the job in a year’s time. Johnson has, however, picked players on form with nine of the uncapped call-ups coming from Glasgow, who have been a country-mile ahead of Edinburgh this season. In total the Warriors provide 19 players to the squad with Edinburgh supplying a paltry seven. This means, despite poor international form, plenty of players will bring their club confidence into the equation.
The lack of expectation could make Scotland a dangerous beast to face. Opposition will know that the Scottish players will be bringing clear heads to the match with no intense pressure to score tries or rack-up impressive wins. The pressure will always be on the opposition and with the squad knowing that they don’t face a tabloid pounding or backlash from the fans they can concentrate fully on playing the way they want to.
Once again, it’s a case of a team’s strength also being its weakness. With more than half of the squad being completely new to international rugby, there is a chronic lack of experience of the test match arena. Johnson recently pin-pointed Scotland’s gradual regression into mediocracy as a result of the severe lack of talent coming through the youth ranks. The national team have for many years relied on older players, but more often than not these players no longer possess the talent or skill to perform on the international stage. Johnson has included a vast array of differing talent so as to begin the building process for the 2015 World Cup and beyond.
The new stance will present opportunities for the future and a chance for young fresh talent to come through, but for the ‘now’ Scotland will face a tough Six Nations with teams like England, France and Ireland looking to build on promising last results. Scotland will have youth on their side but lack the same experience levels their opponents have. Traditionally the Scots’ issue has been taking their chances, and being clinical in the opposition’s 22 – a problem that is only going to be compounded by the lack of experience. The changes in the coaching set-up will also complicate things, and it could be a tough year for the men north of the border.
Player to watch: David Denton
Zimbabwean-born Denton is a man-mountain at the back of the scrum. When he burst onto the scene in last year’s competition, Scotland fans had genuine reason to expect they might have a world-class player to finally shout about. Whilst his form has perhaps tailed off over the past year, this is in no small part down to playing in an Edinburgh team that lacks confidence, and with the pressure off for Scotland he could thrive again. With some exciting young backs in the squad, front-foot ball will be vital, and Denton is as likely as anyone to get them over the gain-line. He is on the bench for the first game, but could be a great impact sub.
Last season: 6th
In rugby terms, last season’s campaign was a stereotypically Scottish affair. Strong performances were compromised by serious ineptitude when presented with scoring opportunities, meaning there was plenty of optimism around the performances, but no points to show for it. Narrow losses at home to France and England were full of promise, but dismal showings in Ireland, Wales and particularly Italy meant Scotland picked up the dreaded wooden spoon once again. They will be desperate to avoid it this season.
New coach, new team… different outcome? Johnson will want to win during this years Six Nations but I’m afraid to say that the Thistle nation should not expect fireworks from the new team. Foundations have been laid for the future and a second successive wooden spoon should not be viewed as another typical Scottish performance. It may be too early to speak of a ‘new dawn’ as such, but this squad could potentially compete with the best in the future. An impressive Six Nations championship for the Scots could mean they gradually squeeze back into the top 10 in the world and begin to repair the damage left behind by Andy Robinson.
By Alexander McLeman