Scottish Rugby and the ‘Thistle Revolution’

It seems sunny days have finally reached Scotland rugby at last. After many years of bad outcomes, humiliating defeats and a doubtful future, Scottish rugby has pulled the strings and it can now try to topple England in the next Six Nations.

The “Thistle Revolution” started back 2014 with Vern Cotter,  a New Zealander coach who was appointed as the new national coach for the Scottish Rugby Union after two awful years with interim-coach Scott Johnson.

With Johnson Scotland only won five out of sixteen games, recording a disastrous campaign in the 2012 Six Nations in which they finished last.

Vern Cotter was a successful coach in Europe, as he helped to modernize Clermont-Auvergne, winning the TOP 14 (09/10) and Challenge Cup (06/07) in the process. Cotter’s style of play was simple, with the forwards dominating the territory but that could quickly jump the ball to the backline.

Quick like a Gatling gun, Cotter’s Clermont surprisingly took France by storm, forcing a new era for Clermont and TOP 14 alike.

But his time in France ended with a new project: Scotland. As we said, the Scots were facing rash times in the Rugby World, missing the mark many times and playing an awful and archaic kind of rugby that was taking them down.

Vern Cotter arrives with a New Wind for Scottish Rugby

2014 was the year of change as Cotter took charge, the Glasgow Warriors took the PRO12 by surprise and the likes of Finn Russell, Alex Dunbar, Gordon Reid, Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour rose to the National team.

Scotland’s growth had many reasons to it as they had a new and thriving generation taking the field, with Stuart Hogg being the best example of them all.

Furthermore, men like Greig Laidlaw, Ross Ford, Richie Gray, David Denton or Alasdair Dickinson were wiser and could lead the team by example, something that Laidlaw always did with success.

Change of Playing Style

Scotland quickly dropped off the monosyllabic type of rugby and tried a new gameplay, that involved the forwards being more aware of their surroundings, improving not only their physical condition but as also their individual skills.

Scotland became more prominent at the breakdown, dealing serious damage against teams like France or Wales, surprising their foes with a series of quick and lethal counter-attack manoeuvres.

But, there was still a problem in the Scottish team: the scrum and lineout. In the 2014 or 2015 Six Nations, you could see Scotland playing impressively with the ball in hand but all would stagger in the scrum or lineout.

The 8-man-a-side battle was a serious problem, with the Scots conceding most of their penalties or losing good opportunities with it.

In 2015, before the Rugby World Cup, Scotland welcomed to the team WP Nel, a powerful prop who mastered the scrummage as one of the best in the World.

With the South-African born prop, Scotland mounted a serious case in the RWC, by going to the quarter-final and almost eliminating Australia, in a very tight and close contest that ended with a 35-34 for the Wallabies.

WP Nel, Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson, Richie and Jonny Gray built a formidable front five, that went hard and strong in the match.

The mustering of the forward pack was one of the Vern Cotter’s big achievements, transforming what was once a frail and penalized pack into a credible and powerful forward section.

2015 a Major Stepping Stone

The Rugby World Cup was an amazing effort, giving not only a new hope for the Scottish rugby culture but also making the Scotts fee they could do much more on the Six Nations.

In the 2016 campaign they were inches away from wrecking Eddie Jones debut for England, with a close-call loss by 09-15. Finishing fourth ahead of Italy and France, Cotter once again had to twerk some bolts to get the best of his team.

Nonetheless, Stuart Hogg won his first 2016 Six Nations ‘Player of the Year’ award, while Greig Laidlaw finished behind Owen Farrell in the top point scorers. Both which are a fine examples of how the Scots grew in attacking threat recent years.

A New Contender steps into the 2018 Six Nations fray

For England or Ireland, always serious contenders for the Six Nations, going to Murrayfield is now quite a journey, as they have to give the very best and hope that Scotland doesn’t do something reckless that could throw a spanner in the works of their game.

From 2016 to 2017, Scotland won 13 of 21 games, beating the likes of Itay, France, Ireland, Australia (two times in the same year), Argentina, Wales and Japan, showing an impressive display against 1st tier foes.

Continued Momentum with New Coach

Vern Cotter’s departure to France, made possible the rise of Gregor Townsend a man who is familiarized with both the Scottish top rugby and school levels. The man who helped to build players like Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray, Alex Dunbar or Tommy Seymour is doing a fantastic job with Cotter’s legacy.

Taking charge after a quite impressive Six Nations 2017, Gregor Towsend has started quite well wining four of his first six games.

And their best game didn’t end up with a victory, as Stuart Hogg was tackled by World Rugby’s two time Best Player of the Year, Beauden Barrett, when he was just metres from the All Blacks try-line.

A final piece of knowledge that we have to take seriously is the new kids on the block like Huw Jones, Ali Price, Nick Grigg, Luke Hamilton or Magnus Bradbury who just made their debuts in 2017.

Huw Jones is a prime example of a brilliant work by the Scotland Rugby Union, bringing one of the most promising South-African raised players to Scotland.

Since his debut, the centre has quickly risen to be one of the best in Europe. His firm tackling, quick feet and superb handling skills gave a new boost to the offensive display.

Scotland are so good at the moment that every single new player coming to the squad makes an instant impact. For example Byron McGuigan (two tries against Australia), Stuart McInally (three tries in just the Autumn Internationals) or Darryl Marfo being just some of the new names on the latest teamsheet.

The Guinness Pro14 Scottish rugby teams played a (big) role in all of this, as they were like incubators for the last seven years. Not only did they help develop most of the Scottish internationals, they also test-ran the type of game play used by the National team now.

Both of the Scottish teams in the Celtic League are doing superbly this season, and they might even go all the way to PRO14’s finals next year. Glasgow Warriors are especially doing well. It is a great time to be a Scottish rugby supporter in European competition.

Every Element Gelling for Scottish Rugby

There’s a good harmony between players, teams, coaches and the Union that is delivering a steady base for the future growth of the game. Scotland has moved on from a desperate and ‘sad’ side to a real team with high hopes of getting their first taste of Six Nations glory, after almost 18 years waiting.

Can the ‘Thistle Revolution’ become a Golden Era for Scotland? Or might the ‘powers’ of the Northern Hemisphere shut it down inside the four lines? Only time can tell, but for now Scottish rugby fans rejoice.


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