After historic wins at Twickenham and Paris in the Six Nations, Scotland will want to be more consistent just two years out from the Rugby World Cup. Can this start in the upcoming Scotland Autumn Internationals?
With two of the three best teams in the world lined up as their opponents, the nation’s fate is in their own hands. Connor Dickins breaks down the factors that could point to an autumn for fans to look ahead to, after a long drought of results in the World Rugby window.
Promising 2021 Six Nations campaign to build-on
Those wins away to England and France (see main photo) are difficult to overstate. It was the first win at Twickenham for 38 years, and their maiden victory over France in Paris since 1999. Gregor Townsend’s side will take huge confidence from these wins, showing them that they have the quality to win big games.
Scotland’s creative attack is rightly celebrated by Scots and rugby neutrals alike. The intricate structures of head coach Townsend combined with the flair of Finn Russell is a nightmare for any defence. Yet what seems to have gone under the radar is their hugely impressive kicking game. Both Finn Russell and Ali Price are hugely intelligent kickers who spot gaps in the backfield. Opposition were therefore forced to rush kicks, creating space for their dangerous backs.
Other positives include a drastically improved scrum, and phenomenal captaincy skills from Stuart Hogg. Both of these proved instrumental in their win over England earlier this year.
IN: Magnus Bradbury & Dave Cherry
OUT: Mark Bennett (injury) & Fraser Brown (injury)
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) October 25, 2021
British and Irish Lions contingent to feature alongside new blood
Scotland’s impressive tournament was reflected in the British and Irish Lions squad for South Africa. Scotland received their greatest number of call-ups for 32 years. Seven of the eight selected featured in the test side. This could prove a hugely valuable experience, as noted by Zander Fagerson.
The Glasgow prop has claimed that the tour has ‘given him confidence’ alongside new ideas for club and country. It could especially be insightful for their test against the world champions, South Africa.
The creative duo of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg are obviously renowned for their jaw-dropping offensive play. However, Chris Harris is incredibly important to create opportunities for them. An issue for Scotland in the past was the lack of big ball carriers to bust a hole in the opposition. Gloucester centre Harris consistently makes metres, and is a solid presence defensively.
In terms of new players, the call-up of Sharks flanker Dylan Richardson garnered plenty of media attention. However, fellow uncapped South African-born Pierre Schoeman could also make a big impact. The Edinburgh prop, who has qualified through residency, has been a terrific scrummager and ball-carrier for years at the capital. His tank-like runs could not only make a big impact off the bench, but also provide a challenge for Rory Sutherland’s starting jersey.
What threats does Scotland face this Autumn?
South Africa and Australia in particular will provide stern tests. The stellar performances from both teams in the Rugby Championship were a clear message to their European opposition that they mean business. Scotland will hope their expansive play can tire the gargantuan Springbok pack, and their astute kicking game will catch out Australia’s full-backs (with usual starter Tom Banks out injured).
That being said, Scotland will still need to be at their best to secure test victories against these sides.
2021 Autumn Internationals schedule: all played at Murrayfield:
30/10 – versus Tonga (2.30pm)
07/10 – vs Australia (2.15pm)
13/10 – vs South Africa (1.00pm)
20/10 – vs Japan (1.00pm)
Scotland’s squad arguably requires more depth to truly compete for a 6 Nations or World Cup. Their starting XVs are often riddled with world-class players, but can the same be said for their bench? This has made the Tonga a great opportunity to experiment with new players, with Townsend naming four debutants for their clash on Saturday.
The 6 Nations was so competitive that in both Scotland’s losses against Wales and Ireland, the game could have gone either way. Yet its these clutch moments that are the difference when it comes to winning silverware. Whether it be lineout errors, charge-downs, or handling errors; Scotland just made too many mistakes to mount a serious challenge in the most recent 6 Nations. The Autumn tests will provide ample opportunity to prove to themselves that they can make correct decisions at key moments.
Scotland Autumn Internationals – the Last Word
Scotland is drastically improving their game-plan, with key players growing as leaders year upon year. The fact that Gregor Townsend’s tenure has the highest win percentage since the early 1990s is testament to this. With Quade Cooper and Samu Kerevi withdrawing from the Australia squad, Scotland fans may feel confident of a win over the Wallabies. South Africa, fresh from their win over the All Blacks, will prove a colossal challenge.
All things considered, Scotland is likely to earn a respectable, but not perfect 3 wins out of 4.
“Main photo credit”
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