>> Gus­cott: Scots have chance of Grand Slam

The Rugby Paper - - Front Page - JEREMYGUSCOTT

“The Scots are play­ing pretty di­rectly, and they are do­ing it with the pace that en­abled them to put New Zealand and Aus­tralia on the back foot”

THE out­right win­ners from the Au­tumn se­ries are Scot­land, es­pe­cially as Eng­land and Ire­land were pretty well nailed-on to have strong cam­paigns with teams like Ar­gentina, Samoa, South Africa and Fiji as their op­po­nents.

The Scots, by con­trast, had New Zealand and Aus­tralia to con­tend with, and they had an op­por­tu­nity to win against the All Blacks. They kept them­selves in the chase long enough to take a late lead, and although they could not hang onto it there was plenty of ev­i­dence of the im­prove­ment in their at­tack since Gre­gor Townsend be­came coach.

Scot­land backed it up with an­other strong per­for­mance against Aus­tralia, and they would prob­a­bly have won even if prop Sekope Kepu’s red card had not meant they were play­ing against 14 men for the best part of the match.

The Scots are play­ing pretty di­rectly, and they are do­ing it with the pace that en­abled them to put New Zealand and Aus­tralia on the back foot for long pe­ri­ods. There is real in­dus­try in their pack, and with John Bar­clay and Hamish Wat­son as the back row spear­heads they con­test hard at the tackle and the break­down.

Ali Price is a busy scrum-half, although he has to learn to pass faster rather than al­ways look­ing at whether there is any­thing on for him. If he doesn’t get out of the habit, he will find him­self get­ting clipped on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Finn Rus­sell is ma­tur­ing into a won­der­ful fly-half, and with run­ners of the abil­ity of full-back Stu­art Hogg – who has been the Six Na­tions player of the tour­na­ment for the last two sea­sons – the Scots back­line thrives off quick ball.

Huw Jones at cen­tre is an­other real threat, but so much de­pends on the Scot­tish for­wards. Dur­ing the au­tumn they were very com­pet­i­tive against classy op­po­nents, but there is still the lurk­ing sus­pi­cion that they could get bul­lied.

How­ever, if they stand up to be counted against Eng­land – where they are at home – and against Ire­land in Dublin, they could gain enough mo­men­tum to se­cure a long-awaited Grand Slam.

Eng­land played Ar­gentina, who are a spent force, and Samoa, who are in tur­moil, to notch a cou­ple of ex­pected wins. In the game against Aus­tralia they were helped by the Wal­la­bies giv­ing away two yel­low cards, be­cause against the No.2 side in the world you can­not ex­pect to win with only 13 or 14 play­ers on the pitch for 20 min­utes.

Ed­die Jones is work­ing on mak­ing Eng­land more re­silient men­tally, and they are trav­el­ling well. My main crit­i­cism this au­tumn is that in terms of at­tack­ing abil­ity they are way off the stan­dard re­quired to make their world cham­pion am­bi­tions come true.

They are work­ing hard on set moves off scrum and line-out, but I don’t see any­thing ground-break­ing in what they are do­ing, and at the mo­ment New Zealand, Aus­tralia and Ire­land all have bet­ter back-lines.

Ire­land have a well-man­i­cured look about them un­der Joe Sch­midt, and Ja­cob Stock­dale is a big find. The Ul­ster wing is a big, pow­er­ful run­ner, but he is also grace­ful, with an im­pres­sive step and swerve. Hav­ing played cen­tre he ap­pears happy to come in­field and look for work, and the Ir­ish ap­pear to have un­earthed one hell of a player.

Joey Car­berry is also find­ing his feet, giv­ing Sch­midt a new gen­er­a­tion play­maker, and with the likes of Peter O’Ma­hony and Tadgh Fur­long lead­ing the charge up front the Ir­ish look in good shape.

What Ire­land have to work-out is how to out­ma­noeu­vre an op­po­si­tion that comes at you with great line-speed in de­fence. How­ever, on the plus side the Jonny Sex­ton wrap-around is still there, and their pass­ing and ac­cu­racy has im­proved.

Wales have found this au­tumn that un­der pres­sure their skills are not up to scratch. The Welsh have adopted a new two play­maker set-up, with ei­ther Dan Big­gar or Rhys Pri­est­land at 10, and Owen Wil­liams at 12.

How­ever, you sense that, like Eng­land, what they also want is the op­tion of a big unit at inside-cen­tre to get them over the gain-line. It used to be that tight-heads were the big­ger money mak­ers in our game, but now ev­ery­one wants a big line-break­ing 12, although those who also have the vi­sion and dis­tri­bu­tion skills of a fly-half are as rare as hen’s teeth.

I can see what Wales want to do, but at the mo­ment their ac­cu­racy is lack­ing. They prob­a­bly need to sim­plify their game, and straighten it up by be­com­ing more di­rect – which is what they did with Jamie Roberts. The prob­lem they have dis­cov­ered is that the more you pass, the more lat­eral you tend to get.

Wales en­ter­tain Scot­land in the open­ing round of the Six Na­tions, and that looks like a more de­mand­ing start than they would have liked to a tour­na­ment that this time looks pretty finely bal­anced.

PIC­TURE: Getty Im­ages

Ma­tur­ing: Finn Rus­sell is be­com­ing a won­der­ful fly-half

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