Tay­lor urges Scots to be vig­i­lant of Ir­ish run­ners

Warn­ing signs af­ter de­mo­li­tion of Italy


SCOT­LAND must be pre­pared to with­stand an Ir­ish on­slaught this af­ter­noon whether it comes from the air or on the ground, ac­cord­ing to as­sis­tant coach Matt Tay­lor.

The Ir­ish have tra­di­tion­ally em­ployed more of a kick­ing game than most other teams in the RBS 6 Na­tions Cham­pi­onship, but last week they de­stroyed Italy with a dev­as­tat­ing dis­play of run­ning rugby, scor­ing nine tries in a 58-15 vic­tory. That was a first win in four games for the Ir­ish, who have won the tour­na­ment for the last two years, and Tay­lor is sure they will be des­per­ate to end the sea­son on a high.

“They will be very con­fi­dent af­ter last week’s show when they scored nine tries,” he said yes­ter­day. “There’s def­i­nitely a change in the way they’re play­ing the game and run­ning it. They did well with kick­ing for the past cou­ple of years but now they’re try­ing to bring more at­tack­ing into the game. They had a re­ally good game against Italy last week and they’re at home again.

“We need to be ready for both – if they run it we need to be up in their faces. De­fen­sively we’ve got to front up early on be­cause if we switch off it’ll give them the con­fi­dence to run. If we can get up in their faces and things don’t come off for them they might re­vert to a more kick­ing game.”

Be­sides the threat posed by the Ir­ish and what­ever tac­tics they adopt, an ob­vi­ous con­cern for Scot­land is their own deeply dis­ap­point­ing dis­play in the fi­nal game in each of the last two years. They were over­whelmed by Ire­land last year, los­ing 40-10 at Mur­ray­field, and they fared even more badly 12 months be­fore that, go­ing down 51-3 in Wales.

“I hope as a group we’ve moved for­ward a bit,” Tay­lor con­tin­ued. “Men­tally as a group we’re stronger, more re­silient.

“The cham­pi­onship last year was dis­ap­point­ing, We didn’t win any games, but I felt at the start we per­formed rea­son­ably well but then through in­juries, con­fi­dence, what­ever and then that last day of the sea­son was prob­a­bly slightly dif­fer­ent with a num­ber of teams hav­ing to play rugby.

“We’ll need to de­fend well. They’re a good at­tack­ing team: they showed that last week. If we do that, and put them un­der pres­sure, and de­pend­ing on how they play – if they de­cide to run the ball early in their own half and turn it over they’ll put them­selves un­der pres­sure. But if you sit off them and let them play, and they start to off­load and put more tempo on the game, then we’ll be on the back foot.”

As Tay­lor dou­bles up as as­sis­tant coach with Glas­gow, he knows the team’s new play­ers well, as all three have re­placed War­riors team-mates. Dun­can Weir starts at 10 in­stead of the in­jured Finn Rus­sell, Ryan Wil­son is at 8 in­stead of Josh Strauss, and Tim Swin­son is at lock in­stead of Jonny Gray, who is also in­jured.

“I think part of the rea­son we’re get­ting bet­ter is we’re build­ing a bit more depth,” he added. “Jonny Gray is a loss, but Tim Swin­son has got the op­por­tu­nity to stand up and put his im­print on the game as well.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing that both those in­jured guys can’t be here, but that’s the na­ture of rugby. The next guy steps up.

“If we per­form well, we’ve got an op­por­tu­nity to win. We’re un­der no il­lu­sion that it’s go­ing to be tough – they’re a good team and they’ve got a good record here. But I feel if we do our bit right we’ll put our­selves in a good po­si­tion.”

GREIG LAID­LAW’S lead­er­ship has been cen­tral to the mini-re­vival that Scot­land rugby sup­port­ers are hop­ing is the start of a new era of suc­cess, ac­cord­ing to the man whose record he will break in Dublin.

Close to quar­ter of a cen­tury has elapsed since David Sole drew a line un­der one of the great in­ter­na­tional ca­reers which saw him rep­re­sent his coun­try 44 times, 25 as cap­tain; play in a Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lions side that won a Test se­ries in Aus­tralia; lead Scot­land to vic­tory in the first ever Grand Slam de­cider against Eng­land as well as to their only World Cup semi-fi­nal; and fin­ished with him scor­ing Test rugby’s last ever four-point try.

He ad­mits to sur­prise that it has taken so long for his record num­ber of caps as cap­tain to be over­hauled, but there is im­plicit crit­i­cism of how suc­ces­sive man­age­ments have per­formed as he sug­gests that has been a con­trib­u­tory fac­tor to what has been a re­lent­less run of fail­ure since the turn of the mil­len­nium.

“I’m a great be­liever that you have to have sta­bil­ity of lead­er­ship which is why I’m amazed, with the num­ber of caps play­ers win now, it has taken so long for the record to be over­taken and that in­di­cates we’ve not had a great deal of sta­bil­ity,” said Sole, whose busi­ness life, tellingly, in­volves run­ning a com­pany named ‘School for CEOs’.

“I had three years as cap­tain and, hav­ing come into the side in ‘86, there was sta­bil­ity of lead­er­ship through­out the side. We all knew each other, got on ex­cep­tion­ally well and still do.

“There was a lot of self-be­lief, re­solve and tal­ent in that group. You look around the cur­rent group and there’s a huge amount of tal­ent. What they don’t yet have is that self-be­lief and con­fi­dence.”

In say­ing so, Sole claims no spe­cial in­sight. In­deed, for all that his first room-mate as an in­ter­na­tional player was Laid­law’s un­cle Roy – an­other Scot­land cap­tain who spent much of their time to­gether try­ing to wind the new­comer up by giv­ing him a con­stant count­down to kick-off while re­peat­edly ask­ing him how ner­vous he was – he says his only ex­po­sure to the cur­rent skip­per, be­yond what he has learned from the me­dia, was dur­ing an un­likely en­counter last week.

“Un­less you’re in­side the group, it’s hard to get a real feel but the Scot­tish team have been stay­ing at the Vil­lage Ho­tel, where I use the gym, and I was in the sauna with Greig for a few min­utes on Fri­day night. He seems very down to earth,” he ex­plained.

“Greig seems a very un­der-stated, quiet in­di­vid­ual and deeply pas­sion­ate about what he wants to achieve for Scot­land.”

That in it­self speaks to the way mod­ern pro­fes­sion­als have be­come un­healthily de­tached from the wider rugby com­mu­nity they rep­re­sent, but Sole, whose ap­proach was to cap­tain the team by seek­ing their re­spect with his per­for­mance in ev­ery train­ing ses­sion, let alone match, has seen enough to be re­as­sured that Laid­law is the sort to align him­self to sim­i­lar val­ues.

“I have got the sense that’s the sort of per­son he is too,” he said.

“He will give his last breath to win a match for Scot­land and that’s what you want to see, bring­ing back those true Scot­tish val­ues of real heart and bloody-minded re­sis­tance which mean you will even win some­times when you didn’t de­serve to.”

Sole’s was an era in which Scot­land lost only twice in 21 matches he played at Mur­ray­field, a far cry from the last 21 – of which they have won just seven. How­ever, he also notes oth­ers must step up to give the sup­port he re­ceived from his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor Fin Calder and suc­ces­sor Gavin Hast­ings, as well as the likes of John Jef­frey, Gary Arm­strong – “my all-time num­ber one Scot­tish scrum half” – and Sean Li­neen.

“There was a good blend of youth and ex­pe­ri­ence too. If you think back to that time, you’d had Jim Ren­wick, Andy Irvine, Ian McLauch­lan, Gor­don Brown – all-time great Lions who weren’t lucky enough to all ma­ture at the same time in the way we did,” he pointed out.

In­vited to draw com­par­i­son, then, Sole is en­cour­aged by what he saw, not least in last Sun­day’s de­feat of France,

de­scrib­ing Jonny Gray as a fu­ture Bri­tish & Ir­ish Lion and com­par­ing the John Bar­clay/John Hardie flanker com­bi­na­tion to the in­ter­change­able Fin­lay Calder/John Jef­frey part­ner­ship. Be­hind the scrum, he rates as “ex­cep­tional” Peter Horne, who took over as play­maker in place of the in­jured Finn Rus­sell – whom he con­sid­ers to be suf­fer­ing from sec­ond­sea­son syn­drome but still highly promis­ing. He praises Tommy Sey­mour and ob­serves en­thu­si­as­ti­cally that Stu­art Hogg is sim­ply “do­ing things you don’t ex­pect to see on the pitch in an in­ter­na­tional”.

He ad­mits to frus­tra­tion, how­ever, at the lack of con­sis­tency in re­la­tion to the ob­vi­ous po­ten­tial. “Play like they did on Sun­day or against Aus­tralia in the World Cup, and they can hold their own with any­one. They have to do it more of­ten and they could be a fan­tas­tic team and a true em­bod­i­ment of what we are look­ing for in a Scot­land team.

“When you look at the games they’ve played this sea­son, they’ve been sub-op­ti­mal against Eng­land, bet­ter against Wales, bet­ter against Italy with their backs to the wall and they took France to the clean­ers at times. If they can kick on again and beat Ire­land, it would be a fan­tas­tic sea­son, al­beit they might be look­ing back at that first game and won­der­ing.”

As to his own place in his­tory, Sole seems quite com­fort­able that he is about to move into se­cond place be­hind the cur­rent cap­tain.

“I’m not a great one for records and I’m de­lighted that he’s go­ing to over­take it,” he said.

“We have this ten­dency to look back and it’s all very well to be nos­tal­gic, but it’s about the guys who are on the park now and the game is so dif­fer­ent to the way it was when we played.”

TWO OF A KIND: Greig Laid­law, above, and the man whose record he will pass this af­ter­noon, David Sole

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