We’ve learned we’re still not learning

It was pointed out to Vern Cotter in the post match press-conference that he and others had talked about discipline after every game so far and yet here it was, still a subject worthy of discussion. His response, suitably bemused:

“I’m obviously not getting that message across.”

I would imagine that he will be searching for some new and particularly tortuous methods of drilling the message home before Scotland head to Twickenham in two weeks, but there’s a growing sense that perhaps it doesn’t matter who the coach is at this level, are we just paying for a lack of development talent earlier in their careers?

Sure, you can teach them to kick a ball nicely, but shouldn’t a professional rugby player appreciate the importance of a safe touch from a penalty when your team is under the cosh? Taken in the abstract away from the big-game hype, it’s hardly a new situation.

The Wooden Spoon’s in the bag

Italy have their win and have two home games left against France and Wales which they will fancy one of for a win you would think. Scotland have nothing and face England and Ireland, this year’s two strongest teams. There’s not much more to say on that front…

Wrong-footed: Horne worked hard, but Russell was missed. Credit: Inpho

Wrong-footed: Horne worked hard, but Russell was missed. Credit: Inpho

We miss Finn Russell already

Peter Horne ran some nice lines and distributed reasonably well, at least until the game was being forced late on, but there was never a sense that he was in charge of where the game was going. Scotland’s tempo and kicking dictated that early on, and once Italy seized momentum just before half time Sergio Parisse was in charge. Both our young tens are guilty of criminal missed kicks to touch in recent games but Finn Russell runs the game with a greater sense of the (chaotic) control required and should be returned to face England after his ban. Where no doubt they’ll pepper him with high balls and leaping players…

We’ll find out next week how ruthless Cotter is prepared to be

With all but eight players released back to their clubs this week, it will be interesting to see if there is any noticeable difference to the Scotland squad when it reconvenes next Sunday.

Cotter gained praise early in his stewardship for picking the players on form, and there is a spectrum between grudging admiration and puzzlement for the way in which some of the old guard (Al Kellock, Kelly Brown, John Barclay et al) were swept aside in favour of talented youngsters who were not yet used to losing. However, Ross Ford and Greig Laidlaw are clinging on despite not showing the November form that gained them a reprieve. Dropping your captain (and his likely deputy) mid tournament may be rash, but on the other hand if we are building for the future, is there really any point in keeping them around till after the World Cup and suffering another six months of this?

If you need their skills or leadership in camp, stick them on the bench or make them water carriers; the Wooden Spoon is all but in the bag and we’ve not seen enough skill and leadership from either this tournament to justify continued starts.

Maul magic: Italy score from a driving lineout. Credit: Inpho

Maul magic: Italy score from a driving lineout. Credit: Inpho

Better learn to defend a maul, and quick

After Mark Bennett bagged a quick interception try moments into the Italy match on Saturday, Italy hit straight back with a rolling maul, grabbing a try in the process. Luckily for Scotland they seemed to forget how successful this was almost immediately and the game resumed its fast and loose pace. They were quite likely reminded of it at half time, whereupon they reappeared and mauled Scotland to despair, especially in the last quarter when the home side were powerless to stop it, either through lack of fitness or lack of preparation.

With the powerhouse pack of England to face in two weeks time, and no lesser a threat from the Munster-driven Ireland pack the weekend after – who may yet be hunting a grand slam – the Scottish forwards will need to rediscover the tenacity they showed in the Autumn very quickly, or it won’t matter how talented the back division is, opposing teams will keep the ball till we cough up a penalty, and run lineout after lineout at us from the corners.

The end of Scotland’s Six Nations campaign promises yet more misery if these basics cannot be addressed.