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