THAT old Ray Milland classic movie The Lost Weekend sprang most readily to mind after the Scotland team’s disintegration at Twickenham on Saturday.
It really was Scotland’s lost weekend – as well as the national side’s humiliation, our national seven lost to Canada, New Zealand and Russia – Russia, for goodness sake! – and our women’s team managed an even worse scoreline than the men, losing to England by 12 tries and 64 points to nil. And just to emphasise how poor the weekend was for Scottish rugby against England, our under-20s went down 33-5, and our under-18s were beaten 31-17. Dear oh dear oh dear… Yes, our national side suffered unbelievable bad luck in losing Stuart Hogg to injury so early on, and then his replacement Mark Bennett, and the other injuries that peppered the game did not help the Scottish cause. But as one of my English friends said, Scotland face a perfect storm of an England side at its very best and a Scottish side underperforming lamentably.
The debacle began just 1min and 27 secs into the match with Fraser Brown’s shocking spear tackle on Elliot Daly. Of all the people on the field, Brown should have been the one who should have been most wary of tackling a player in this fashion, ie: lifting him off the ground and dumping him on the ground.
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For was it not Brown who was himself so dangerously tackled in an exactly similar fashion by Keith Earls when Glasgow Warriors played Munster over in Ireland in October earlier in this season?
Earls was red-carded for the tackle and was later banned for two weeks after the sending-off which caused a rammy both on the field and later when Earls accused Brown of ‘milking’ the tackle to get him sent off – the Ireland winger later unreservedly apologised to Brown.
Earls lost control that day possibly because of the high emotion surrounding the fixture after the sudden death of Munster coach Anthony Foley. Therefore the Scotland hooker should have known to keep control of his emotions at the start of the game against the Auld Enemy.
Brown will find out later today whether or not he is going to be suspended, having been cited for the tackle on Daly. I predict he will get a two week ban, as the only reason he did not get a red card on Saturday was that Daly landed on his upper back – no thanks to Brown, who landed on his head back in October, and thus Earls was sent off.
It was still a very dangerous tackle by Brown, and the rugby authorities are clamping down on all dangerous play. The SRU should step in first and say that Brown will be dropped for the Italy game as a punishment for his moment of madness which opened the English floodgates. England were very, very good, and Jonathan Joseph was fabulous. England have been threatening such a performance for some time, and Scotland’s bad luck was to be on the receiving end. Eddie Jones proved himself a superior coach, devising a simple but effective system to blast Scotland apart.
Let’s look at the various areas of the game and see where Scotland went wrong: The few scrums were even enough, but England contested at the lineout and did so in a way that the Scots could not get a platform there. Our back row did manfully but were always under the cosh, and their back row constantly pressured our 9 and 10, while most of all, they just ripped up the centre of our defence.
Jones realised that Scotland was weak in defence in the centre, and with lots of dummy runs and angular incision, Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones were stretched and beaten on numerous occasions. That more than anything was the winning tactic planned by Jones and executed with precision.
Add in indiscipline that led to the Scots conceding penalties and the inability of the management and the side to deal with the enforced changes – there was no plan B, C or D when we needed plans out to X, Y and Z – and you have some reasons for the horror show. So what do we do now? With Vern Cotter going after Saturday’s match against Italy, we should not just say it was a hellish day at the office and pick a ‘same old’ injury-depleted 23. I think we should concede that a top three finish is not as good a thing as blooding new talent and Cotter should involve as many new or relatively untested players as possible – Blair Kinghorn, Damien Hoyland, Nick Grigg, Lee Jones, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne should all get a run in the backs, and why not give Alex Allan, Grant Gilchrist and Magnus Bradbury a shot?
Having said all that, the problem for the SRU is yet again the fact that those who run the game here could get away with murder and the SRU Board and Council would still not raise a bleat. There needs to be thorough questioning of chief executive Mark Dodson – his contract runs until 2020 – and director of rugby Scott Johnson and Cotter as to why Scottish rugby’s representative teams put in a completely unacceptable performance on Saturday.
The trouble is that the blazerati in the best seats at Murrayfield do not have the gumption to even question the executives. New chairman Colin Grassie must kick ass, and the entire board and council must either come down hard on Dodson, Johnson and Cotter or resign themselves, or else they will be known for ever more as the failerati.