By Al Dymock
AT post-match press conferences, stats sheets are handed out by busy looking officials. You get the certified breakdown of what happened during the game and you can pick over where and why things didn’t go to plan.
After Scotland lost 17-23 against France, I crumpled the sheet up and threw it away.
The thing is that if you were to look at the sheet you would see more of the same. Scotland dominated possession and time on the ball, but did not score more points than their opponents. By the same token, though, the sheet does not tell you everything.
For example, Scotland officially lost no balls against the head, but they gave away numerous penalties and free kicks in the scrum. They were outmuscled and out-thought in that department, particularly in the last fifteen minutes of the game when the forwards had been run to a standstill. In fact, the same could be said of the rucks. Scotland had some joy at the breakdown, but as it got nearer to the final whistle France did what they had to do to win.
This is the point. Forget stats. Forget bluster. Forget the swirling rumours about Andy Robinson’s future and his Six Nations record. In this one game Scotland played very well, but lost to a better team.
After the game journalists were looking for headlines. As one of them said to me “life is shades of grey, but the fans and ‘papers want black and white”. Robinson’s side did magnificently well and entertained a lively crowd but they lost and few of the Scots can be blamed for that.
Hogg again showed why he is so highly regarded in Scotland, and soon beyond our borders. He scored a try by scorching up Julien Malzieu’s wing and every time he caught the ball the crowd took to their feet and held their breath. He was exciting, unpredictable and a reason to be cheerful.
Ross Rennie got Man of the Match, and although he was fighting against a formidable trio of Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy and Julien Bonnaire in the closing minutes he was showing up well in the close quarter combat.
Nick De Luca made amends for previous poor performances when he came on and Graeme Morrison and Sean Lamont was his usual solid self, while Ross Ford led the team brilliantly, before running himself into the ground.
With such tenacious adherence to running round the corner, a dedication to offloading at will and a desire to run with guile in the opposition’s half it is small wonder that things are, very, very slowly, looking a little better.
Of course Scotland are finishing off very few of all of their line breaks and they kicked poorly, but they were pretty close to France. They were challenging them in the lineout. France let Ford, Blair and Hogg make breaks. France did not just turn up and win. They had to work for it and they had to use tailored tactics to do so.
Richie Gray was targeted in the loose. Rougerie was used to draw fire so Fofana could have quick ball. Malzieu was given a one on one with Lee Jones and Lionel Beauxis, William Servat and Lionel Nallet were brought on to kill off the game.
Yes France did what they had do to win this game and it was possible because they are simply that bit better than Scotland. However, there should be no striving to lay blame at people’s feet. The tactics worked as well as they could, before France sapped all energy out of the Scots, and Hogg and Jones got tries.
Smile, will you? It’s not a wooden spoon decider ’til Ireland have been faced…
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