By Alan Dymock
The Auld Enemy came and an old problem reared its ugly head. Scotland had a huge amount of possession but could not convert that into points.
The official stats tell us Scotland should have won the game. England missed 16 tackles and made only 72 passes. They had a committed defence, yet looked unlikely to build a try through stringing together phases. They did, however, score a try from pressuring slow Scottish ball and charging down a Dan Parks clearance that had to be made on the try-line.
It would have been a fantastic moment for England fans but in Scotland, as the dust begins to settle, it is now a case of frustrations turning into seething anger.
Officially Frank Hadden won more RBS 6 Nations games in a campaign than Andy Robinson has in all of his campaigns combined, and after several years the problem of turning possession into a ‘dot down’ looms writ large. Scotland have not scored a try since their opening game of the Rugby World Cup, against Romania. Even more damning, they have not scored a try against England at Murrayfield since 2004.
On Saturday, there were chances aplenty. Jim Hamilton made a bullocking run and the ball was lost in panic. Then Ross Rennie burst through to create a two-on-one but the ball was eventually slapped down by Ben Foden before a try-scoring offload could be made.
There is an uncertainty when Scotland reach the opposition 22 that is stifling their progress. There seems to be no conviction from Scotland about putting a man a pass through to score.
The most frustrating aspect for the fans was that there were opportunities and the opposition left gaps for the Scots. The coaches will be annoyed that Chris Robshaw slowed ball well at the breakdown, that service was poor and the hefty pack looked under pressure in the scrum, but all of these cannot hide the fact that possession was wasted.
Maybe there will be a scapegoat made out of Dan Parks. In truth he was passable. He distributed well when moving and he looked to be happy to supply Sean Lamont, but his kicking was not as effective as one would have expected. He regularly found Ben Foden in open play and the charge down from Charlie Hodgson seemed to sum-up an uncomfortable afternoon.
Who knows, he may be ostracised completely and cast aside completely so that Duncan Weir and Greig Laidlaw can fight it out for the No 10 jersey. However, with a change at half-back will there still be the problem of converting possession and commanding field-position into scores. Against Wales there has to be an onus on the backs to make the line breaks and finish off their work, because the chances will not keep coming from the forwards.
So what should happen? Well, Scotland have to gamble now.
Andy Robinson has said it’s a case of continuing to work hard and captain Ross Ford has said the players, behind closed doors are well aware of the issues but caution has to be throw to the wind or Robinson’s reputation will come under increasing scrutiny. Stunted progress cannot go on unchecked for the rest of this tournament.
If the price of tries is sacrificing some players and making a slightly untested selection decision, then it simply has to be done.
Scotland versus Wales at the Millennium Stadium could be a dizzying affair, but perhaps only if Scotland can break out of the shackles and take some risks. Here’s hoping.