By Rory Baldwin
ONCE again Scotland come away from a Six Nations Test smarting from errors in judgement that cost them a game in which they were ultimately competitive for the majority of the match.
After going in at half time 3-3 yesterday against Wales in Cardiff, two yellow cards followed a mishandled kick-off at the start of the second half and the ensuing tries put the game to bed for Wales, despite a fiery response from the Scots in the closing quarter.
Coach Andy Robinson once again cut a hugely frustrated figure high up in the Millennium Stadium rafters but while the errors that let Scotland down last week were basic skills and execution, you can’t blame the coach for the mistakes made – these were errors of a different kind.
There could be a temptation to blame instead referee Roman Poite, but his calls on the cards were both correct; rash off the ball tackles by Nick De Luca and Rory Lamont aimed at stopping the potent Welsh from running riot in attack. When the culprits were off the pitch, the Welsh ran riot anyway – Leigh Halfpenny claiming 17 points during that period – and what was for the most part a close contest between two teams playing good rugby became another Scottish lost cause and a 14 point win for Wales.
Poite did miss a catch by teenage debutant Stuart Hogg for a certain try, instead ruling it a knock on. It should have been a try, but with space aplenty it also should have been a better pass from De Luca. In the absence of Dan Parks as a scapegoat, he is sure to once again draw fire from commentators on message boards north of the border for his key errors under pressure.
In amongst the negative there are still positives for Scotland. No doubt sick of again being branded plucky losers, the team can take heart that their set piece and scramble defence – when at full strength – was top class, and the pack provided a stable platform from scrum and especially lineout.
In Richie Gray and David Denton they have forwards that are young, powerful ball carriers and fast approaching very good indeed. Jim Hamilton is finally starting to throw his considerable weight around – just ask George North – and Ross Rennie too is showing the talent that injury has stifled for years.
Behind the scrum it is warming to see Mike Blair back to his best and finally having a ball player outside him in Greig Laidlaw who is happy to play the same way – fast and loose. Laidlaw ran the backline well, and while he wasn’t the saviour every Scottish fan hoped for, he did at least allow those outside him to ask questions of the opposition defence – for periods they almost looked confident with ball in hand.
Scotland might also have unearthed a new attacking threat in Hogg, who showed with some good support runs and a blistering break that so nearly came to fruition that he should be around in a Scotland shirt for years to come. If Robinson is looking to punish errors and reward performance, Rory Lamont’s place could well be under threat.
Scotland’s problem is still the midfield. Sean Lamont, for all his fiery intensity, is a better winger than a centre but with the sorely missed Joe Ansbro injured and now perhaps Max Evans, Robinson may elect not to introduce yet another youngster (Edinburgh’s Matt Scott) into the fray against France.
However with the tournament fast slipping away, now might be the time to continue the rebuild that is starting to show promise, if not results.