A couple of weeks on from Scotland’s loss to Ireland, Alexandra Bullard reflects on a mixed tournament for the national team.
For as long as I can remember, the Scotland men’s national rugby team have always been branded as underdogs. Our little nation has for decades been on the receiving end of endless jokes and comments for barely making any sporting finals. After a somewhat surprising Six Nations tournament, Scotland managed to gain two wins against France and Wales. Could this be a new side that laid down a marker for future generations in the Test arena? Could this be the side that triggered a golden era for Scottish rugby? To put it simply - that answer was no.
The Autumn Nations Cup felt like a confusing place throughout; it was a new eight-team international competition which later turned out to be seven-team, thanks to Covid-19. Amidst all this upheaval, Scotland was drawn in Pool B alongside Fiji, Italy, and a new and improved France. With the Scots facing the Italians first, there was one simple remark which looks unlikely to be changed anytime soon; Scotland, irrespective of who they put out on the field, would win the match. At first glance, our 28-17 win over Italy in Florence was a strong start for the Scots. However, very few expected the challenge the boys in blue had to face to get that win. The Azzurri gave us quite the fright and the Scots had to fight back from behind to claim the bonus-point victory. It was going to take a hell of a performance against France in round two to put a smile back on the faces of Scottish rugby fans.
The pressure was on; could Scotland jump the next hurdle and get to the final after their lacklustre opening round of the tournament? And, with England dominating Pool A after winning against Ireland the same day, it was all to play for between Scotland and the French. In the end, it would be the visitors that would progress and finish top of the pool after an extremely frustrating match. It finished 22-15 despite Scotland having more ball possession and a better kicking rate. The late opportunity for a draw, which just fell short, summarised Scotland’s round two experience.
With Scotland’s third-round game cancelled due to Fiji’s Covid-19 outbreak, Scotland went to Dublin with the hope of finishing in 3rd place. However, in true Scottish style, we had to chew over another disappointing loss. Gregor Townsend, the Scotland coach, said: "I thought the first 35 minutes was some of the best rugby we've played all year." The intensity and execution were certainly present for Scotland, as the Scots demonstrated an energetic and positive mentality. However, we were completely overpowered in the second half, conceding 20 points, and scoring only seven courtesy of Duhan van der Merwe.
Speaking of the Edinburgh winger, van der Merwe has added a sense of flair to the team with his recent performances. He made quite the start to his international career with a try against Georgia, followed by another against Italy, and a third against Ireland. This was not a bad start, but hardly surprising given the regular devastation he has caused in the Guinness Pro14. Van der Merwe will certainly be one to watch, as well as notable new players Oli Kebble and Jaco van der Walt.
It can be argued that Scotland’s autumn campaign was unfortunate and on another day it could have gone differently. However, there’s no justifying nearly being beaten by a passionate Italian side, nor giving away endless penalties against Ireland. Scotland’s back-to-back defeats this season leaves them with work to do, especially since their first test in 2021 is up against the reigning Six Nations Champions England. Big changes are needed for the Scottish side to sort out this pressing and ongoing issue.
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