Cast your mind back to 2009, to a cold dull night in Edinburgh. The Wallabies were in town, and boasted some of the best players in the world, such as Matt Giteau, James O’Connor and Rocky Elsom. They visited Murrayfield on the back of an impressive win over England at Twickenham, an unfortunate draw against Ireland, and were clear favourites heading into the match against the Scots. However, a courageous defensive performance and a unforgivable last-minute missed conversion from Matt Giteau meant Scotland came away victorious in a nail-biting 9-8 finish. The win was celebrated for days, and the way of victory was dismissed. It became apparent that the only way Scotland could beat top opposition was through kicking penalties and making the match a bit of a arm wrestle, and this tactic didn’t always work. However, last weekend Scottish fans watched a side beat a strong Argentina side (who had previously beaten Australia as well as running the Sprinboks extremely close in the 2014 Rugby Championship), and they were able to appreciate a team who seemed creative, inventive and willing. The excitement of Scottish rugby that was being produced in the late 90s seemed to be being recreated, something that was wanted by new head coach, Vern Cotter. Although it is still early, the future seems bright for Scottish rugby.
With that being said, the darkness could descend over Murrayfield this weekend with the arrival of the best team in the world, the New Zealand All Blacks. The last time the two sides met, Scotland managed to run in three tries, with two from flyer, Tim Visser, but a sterling performance from the New Zealanders meant the Scots were crushed 51-22, masterminded by mercurial fly-half, Dan Carter. Yet, for once, spirits seem high in Scotland, and there is an air of confidence which has arrived following Saturday’s victory against the Pumas. Glasgow Warriors winger Tommy Seymour has also claimed he believes his side have ‘turned a corner’ under new coach Cotter. With the Rugby World Cup in England just under a year away, this might be one of the best times to do so. The Scots should learn from their victory, and perhaps they will be working on game management through the week. While their attacking performance was credited, their defensive effort in the final twenty minutes seemed to disappear, which will have been noted from the All Blacks, a team who can- and will - capitalise and profit from every small mistake the opposition makes. It will be interesting to see how Scotland approach the game, and if they will try and take it to New Zealand, or put in a hearty defensive shift and think about damage limitation. Going off Saturday’s performance, it would seem they would try and approach it with the former, and why not? Scotland boast some of their own stars, with the likes of Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, and the Gray brothers all in top form. What is even more pleasing is the fact that there are competition in different positions. It seems at last that Cotter has positive dilemmas in squad selections, something that hasn’t appeared to happen before.
Cotter is a coach who brings a southern-hemisphere approach, which is evidently paying off for Scotland. By blooding young players, it may help the teams development, resulting in better players at a younger age. We have been able to see it with the SANZAR teams, with James O’Connor, Aaron Cruden and Handre Pollard all seeming to profit from being given test match experience before their 21st birthday. Now Scotland have the youthful Jonny Gray, Adam Ashe, Finn Russell and Mark Bennett being given chances ahead of older players such as Jim Hamilton and Sean Lamont. The mix of experience and youth might prove to be the difference for Scotland in the near future.
For now, however, Scotland should try to focus on consistency, and not be disheartened by a result that may not go their way on Saturday. Following this weekend, Scotland will have to show their talents, firstly by winning a match against Tonga, a team they should beat, before aiming for a high finish in the 2015 RBS Six Nations. One emphatic win does bring new hope but not a new dawn. However with Vern Cotter at the helm, expectations are allowed to be slightly higher for Scottish rugby.
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