Six Nations: Scotland are a team with two personalities

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland

As far as weird plot twists go, what happened at Twickenham on Saturday evening rivalled the moment when Bobby Ewing came back from the dead in Dallas.

Bobby's resurrection happened to the general astonishment of his wife, Pamela, who felt sure that his body was in that coffin they'd buried a year before in the lush pastures of Southfork.

The look on English faces as Scotland tore up their game plan and went at the hosts in a blur of attacking and impromptu rugby was reminiscent of dear Pammy's face when she opened her bathroom door to find her late husband having a shower. " can't be..."

There were only so many words to describe that second half in London before reaching for the thesaurus and finding some more. Superhuman. Supernatural. Paranormal. It was as much X Files as X Factor out there.

Since they first started playing Test matches at Twickenham in 1910, a number of teams have gone there and scored four tries. Only four nations had gone there and scored five - Scotland in 1938, New Zealand in 1967, South Africa in 2008 and France in 2015. No single country had ever scored six. Ever.

In 45 minutes, Scotland, a team that had averaged 11 points in its previous three games, scored 38 points without reply. They scored more tries against England at Twickenham than any side in history dating back to 1910 bar a Presidents' XV nearly half a century ago.

Analysing Scotland is fast becoming a job for a psychologist, not a journalist. The twin personalities of this team are entirely different animals - a timid pussycat and a magnificent lion.

What the hell happened? Was there a clue in fly-half Finn Russell's post-match words about an argument in the dressing-room with coach Gregor Townsend at half-time? Was this a comeback orchestrated by a coach, or by players finding something miraculous when performing off the cuff in a moment of pure desperation?

More the latter, you'd have to say. Scotland thrive on chaos, not structure.

The big picture shows that Scotland won only one game and finished fifth, a big step-down from the last two seasons. There are nuances, of course. All those injuries, all that disruption.

The championship had a flourish at the end, but mostly it was a joyless grind, a season when players fell like skittles and "if only" moments came in waves. Some thoughts, then, on Scotland's forgettable Six Nations with the unforgettable conclusion.

Player of the championship - Finn Russell

Against Italy, Russell's cross-kick created a try for Blair Kinghorn and his delicate grubber created another for Stuart Hogg. His intercept of Joey Carbery's pass was the catalyst for Sam Johnson's score against Ireland. His sumptuous inside pass put Byron McGuigan in for the try for Darcy Graham against Wales.

And that brings us to Twickenham. In the opening half, Russell had the most torrid time. His kicking was loose, his passing inaccurate, his control non-existent.

Whatever happened in that dressing-room at the break, a different Russell emerged. The game got broken up and he revelled in the mayhem. He was outstanding - not just in helping to create Graham's second try and in scoring one of his own, but in his leadership. He took ownership. He stepped up.

Russell had more try assists than any other player in the championship despite missing one game. Scotland's player of the campaign.

Finn Russell scores Scotland's fifth try at Twickenham
Finn Russell scores Scotland's fifth try at Twickenham

Welcome back - Hamish Watson

In his hilariously effective cameo against Wales, after recovering from injury, we were reminded what Watson brings to the party and why Scotland can't hope to be the same team without him. Ball-carrying and belligerence in equal measure. Nous and aggression.

Against England, he carried 13 times, made 61 metres and pulled off 23 tackles. In the vernacular, that's what you call a shift.

His presence also seemed to bring out the best in Magnus Bradbury, who was Scotland's biggest carrier and whose work-rate was Watsonesque in that dramatic last 40. If you could clone Watson then Scotland would be contenders.

Lowest blow - Stuart Hogg

When dropping the shoulder into Hogg, Irish flanker Peter O'Mahony wouldn't have known that he was going to remove the full-back from the entire championship, but that's exactly what he did. And he got away with it. No yellow card, no post-match citing, nothing.

Every team worth their salt engages in cynicism at various times, but this one stuck in the craw a little.

Scotland lost by nine and seven of those points came along while the full-back was injured and out of position. Crime pays. Hogg was flying - and then he was gone.

'If only' moment, part one

Scotland had more than 70% possession in the first half against the Irish and only had 10 points to show for it. At the end of the first 40, they went through 25 phases in almost five minutes but couldn't breach the opposition line.

That was a seismic psychological blow. And not the last of them either.

In the second half, they got on the front foot on five separate occasions but were undone by basic errors. What was once a Scottish ruthlessness in attack had suddenly metamorphosed into a great Scottish weakness.

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Every Test match produces a book of stats that would choke a large elephant. Many of them are useless.

Scotland, with one win from five, finished top of the "metres gained" with ball in hand table. Wales, in winning the Grand Slam, finished bottom.

Scotland were number one in the "defenders beaten" category. Hopeless Wales, with their five wins from five, were again bottom.

Scotland were second for line-breaks. Wales? Yes, last again.

You can't measure on-field intelligence by crunching numbers on a computer.

That's plenty - Greig Laidlaw

Greig Laidlaw, when still starting scrum-half and captain, made the unusual and seriously unwise decision to call out referee Romain Poite in his on-field interview after the Ireland game. It was bizarre.

Had Laidlaw railed against him for not dealing with O'Mahony then you might have understood it, but the focus of his ire was an inconsequential penalty that Poite had given with fully half an hour still to play.

Criticising referees is a dangerous business. Poite might be in charge of a Scotland game at the World Cup.

'If only' moment, part two

Paris turned into a soulless day, a comprehensive defeat that left Townsend as deflated as he has ever been in his time in charge of Scotland.

As a rule, Townsend doesn't criticise his players in public if he can help it. In Paris, he couldn't help it. In suggesting that some of them weren't fit to wear the jersey on the day, he offered a glimpse of the angst of a lousy afternoon.

It could have been different. France are wretched, as they showed before and after. With 26 minutes gone, Scotland had a chance to pile the pressure on them and test their resolve. What France might have found is debatable, but the smart money would have been on them running out the gate had Scotland come up with the right questions.

Yoann Huget was in the bin. French discipline was terrible. They led 10-3, but had Scotland punished them in those 10 minutes then it might have been oh-so-different.

Mistakes again killed the Scots. In the end, their great feat was in making a lamentable France team look semi-competent.

Scotland v Wales
Scotland lost 18-11 to Wales at Murrayfield

Breakthrough man - Darcy Graham

Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour were the nailed-on wings before the championship began, but not any more. There might not be a whole lot to Graham in terms of height and weight, but he's a ferocious player and a superb finisher, a guy that reminds you of a young Shane Williams.

A try against Wales and two terrific scores at Twickenham have put him in the box-seat. If Scotland were playing Ireland tomorrow in the World Cup opener in Japan then Graham would surely start.

Try of the championship - Sam Johnson at Twickenham

Coronary-inducing. The work of the forwards in turning over ball and then the rapier thrust from Sam Johnson.

Four Englishmen were in his vicinity, but 14 would have been required to stop him. Had that score won the game then statutes would have been erected.

Wake up Scotland

Slow starts were a recurring theme and Townsend needs to bring an end to them - and quickly. Twelve points conceded in the opening 17 minutes against Ireland, 10 points conceded in the opening 16 minutes against France, seven points in the opening 13 minutes against Wales and 31 given away in the opening half hour against England. Are they given a dose of mogadon before they go out?

'If only' moment, parts three and four

In the second half against Wales, the Scots had an inordinate amount of ball. It was staggering how much possession they had.

A four-minute spell spent banging on the Welsh line, followed by a three-minute spell followed by a six-minute spell. Total domination and only five points to show for it all.

Of course, the ultimate "if only" moment came at Twickenham. If only they'd held out for what would have been their third - yes, just their third - away win in 20 years in the Six Nations, discounting Rome.

A few of the players said in the aftermath that they hoped the fight-back at Twickenham will help build confidence and deliver better days on the road. We shall see, but nobody will taking that one on trust.

A plague on their house

The injury count was freakish and needs catalogued. Scotland went into their opening game without John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Jonny Gray, Sean Maitland and Duncan Taylor. Then, Italy: WP Nel and Sam Skinner injured. Ireland: Hogg, Huw Jones, Ryan Wilson, plus Russell injured in France in the gap week. France: Maitland injured again. Wales: Tommy Seymour, Jamie Ritchie, Blair Kinghorn all suffered blows that ruled them out of Twickenham.

Surely the rugby Gods have had their fill of tormenting Scotland and will now move on.


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