Scotland will have stopped their celebrations early after beating England 11-6 last weekend, with their minds and all Six Nations chat switching to their clash against Wales at Murrayfield.
Gregor Townsend’s team ended their 38-year-wait for victory at Twickenham and the dominant nature of their victory and the total control that they imposed on Eddie Jones’ England – defending Six Nations champions no less – means nothing less than victory over Wales at Murrayfield on Saturday will be expected.
In analyzing this round two match, many key facts should be considered. Wales too enjoyed an opening day victory; albeit less dominant, with a 21-16 win over Ireland in Cardiff. And secondly,Scotland’s record against Wales in recent years has been poor and they will be chasing a first tournament win over their fellow Celts since 2017.
What then does captain Stuart Hogg and his team have to do to ensure another weekend of (socially-distanced) celebration among the Tartan Army?
Six Nations chat – Scotland must match their intensity from England win
One thing stood out during Scotland’s win over England. The intensity. They were a relentless, non-stop, swarming bunch of navy-blue shirted bees, haranguing anything in white. Watch the highlights here, and you can see they were hugely impressive.
Second-row Jonny Gray led the way with an immense 52metres made with the ball from 16 carries and he led the way in defence with 12 tackles. Flanker Hamish Watson was his partner in crime matching his 52metres, albeit from 13 carries with 11 tackles throughout the 80 minutes.
In fact, Scotland were superior in most facets of the match. Their performance meant England scored no points from any of their visits to Scotland’s 22, while the pack’s work at the breakdown was immense, reflected in the fact that they won 116 rucks to England’s 56.
In the past though, Scotland has not produced such intensity throughout an 80 minute performance. More often, it came in bursts and wasn’t something they could always sustain. It happened against Japan in their final pool match of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, where despite showing flashes of high-quality rugby, they crashed out at the end of the pool-play, having allowed Japan to take the early initiative, in a 28-21 loss.
“We have an opportunity this weekend against Wales to continue the positive start to the Guinness Six Nations we made last week against England,” Townsend said at his pre-match press conference. “It was a very encouraging performance at Twickenham and the squad performed to a level which has to be the benchmark throughout the tournament.”
"Our players know they've got a responsibility to do all they can to lift everyone's spirits"
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 11, 2021
Big call up for replacement number 12, James Lang
On Sunday night, and on Monday morning, there were headlines galore recanting the fairy tale debut of Cameron Redpath. Scotland’s inside-centre, the English-raised son of former Scotland captain Bryan Redpath, played with all the passion of his ancestors. But sadly the Bath player has been forced to head back to England’s west country after he picked up a neck injury that may rule him out of the tournament.
That means a lot will fall on the shoulders of his replacement James Lang. At 25 he has four years more experience and with five caps is virtually a veteran compared to new boy Redpath. Like Redpath he has played at fly-half, and comes from good sporting stock with his mother, Rena, a former England football international. His selection shows that Scotland will again go with the double pivot that was key to keeping England’s defence moving and able to exploit the gaps in their defensive line when they did appear.
That formula worked most notably when fly-half Finn Russell spent 10 minutes in the sin-bin, and Cameron Redpath shared the play-making duties with fullback and captain, Stuart Hogg.
“They’re quite similar in how they like to play the game, quite similar in how they’ll help Finn at first receiver and distributor,” former Scotland fullback Chris Patterson said.
“They both have a good kicking game and are experienced in Premiership rugby. Because they are quite similar players, it makes that cohesion easier to deal with.”
Note: Redpath is joined on the injured list by Jamie Ritchie and Sean Maitland.
Scottish fans’ call “Give it to Duhan”
Duhan Van Der Merwe is the latest Kilted Bok after the South African-born player qualified for Scotland on residential grounds in 2020, after joining Edinburgh in 2017. The 6’4” wing made his try-scoring debut in October 2020 against Georgia in the Autumn Nations Cup. He added two more tries in two more matches against Ireland and Wales last year.
What Scottish fans have seized on though, it was his try in the corner after half an hour that made the difference against England. And the call is now “Give it to Duhan”.
Scotland has produced and imported a number of high-quality wings in recent years, but the issue has usually been getting the ball to them. With the pack in charge against England last weekend though, it allowed scrum-half Ali Price (see main photo) on average a second quicker to clear the ball from the breakdown [than his English counterparts Ben Youngs and Dan Robson].
And with Russell and Hogg pulling the strings superbly, there were opportunities galore for the 25-year-old to add to his tally.
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Not everyone was impressed that he signed a for Worcester Warriors in the English Premiership next season after he had won his first cap but, if they can continue to get the ball to him then few will care where he plays his club rugby.
Key Scotland take from Round One; Players must keep believing
In the past, Scotland has been their own biggest opponent. Most watching the fare from Twickenham would have been forgiven for thinking ‘England would ride out the first half’ with six points, and then run wild in the last 20 to overhaul the opponents they first played 150 years ago. It happened in 2018, when George Ford’s try and conversion spared England’s blushes.
Last Saturday though, there wasn’t a sign of a crisis of confidence creeping in. Maybe it was the way they rode out Russell’s absence. Maybe it was Russell being back in the team in fact. Or maybe it was Hogg putting his hand up to be the Lions starting fullback. But maybe it was just a sense of trust and faith in each other, that meant they stood firm where others had folded.
Keep believing is the instruction that needs to be brought out by the medics and water boys. Keep on it, because it will only get harder from here on.
Wales will test Scotland again. Rightly or wrongly, they’ve already painted themselves as underdogs with injuries to star men Jonathan Davies and George North but make no mistake. This Welsh team will be chomping at the bit to build on their win over Ireland.
𝗣𝗜𝗩𝗔𝗖 💬 “We were pleased to kick the tournament off with a victory last weekend and to be heading to Scotland with a win behind us.⠀
“We continue to build and to move forward and it is great to do that from a position of winning."⠀#SCOvWAL ⑊ #GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/vEJ2xJ5Cvo
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 11, 2021
Furthermore, they still have a highly-experienced core with Alun Wyn-Jones leading the way and ably supported by hooker Ken Owens. Their ranks are swelled by the likes of number eight Taulupe Faletau, flanker Justin Tipuric, scrum-half Gareth Davies, fly-half Dan Biggar, and fullback Leigh Halfpenny – with his mega-boot that the Scot’s must not offer easy penalty opportunities to. And don’t forget Liam Williams, who has his own bag of tricks to watch out for.
It means that come Saturday afternoon after the final hooter has sounded, observers will know for sure if Scotland are truly moving forward in 2021 (as Townsend believes). “There was a calmness and togetherness about the way we played, and the effort level was superb,” he said.
“We’ve had a good feeling the last couple of weeks, the way the players have trained and the way the players have bonded that we would play well, but it’s the first game of the championship and we had a couple of debuts, but they performed so well.”
At the end of the match, there will be plenty more Six Nations chat. If it proves that Scotland are no more the easy beats of Great Britain, then it will make for a better tournament than many had predicted earlier in the year. And show that Scotland have the belief to win.
Guinness Six Nations – Round Two: Scotland v Wales, Murrayfield
“Main photo credit”
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