By Alan Dymock
WITH CLEAN linout ball, Ruaridh Jackson stepped left and threw a pass behind Sean Lamont just as the centre screamed in against the grain. At his back, Sean Maitland barely put his fingerprints on the ball before sending it over to Matt Scott, who hotfooted his way to a score from outside the 22.
The try was not the first of the game, Tim Visser sliding off his wing in the first half and pumping his way over the line was the game’s opener. The try was not the most exciting, either, that accolade must go to Stuart Hogg, after taking an interception almost 90m to the Italian line, causing coronaries up and down Scotland. Nor was it the most historically noteworthy, after an unchallenged charge from Lamont meant Scotland had scored four tries in the championship for the first time in 10 years.
Scott’s try was significant, though.
Why, you may ask? Because he finished off a training ground, first phase move and for that, there was almost audible snapping noise reverberating around Edinburgh. The backline had taken ball and used movement, subtlety and skill to break free. There had been no blasting and no kicking. They had clicked. They had set their minds on creating something and they saw it through to its fruitful, ecstatic end.
This was not the try that declared Scotland as championship contenders. After all, it came against an Italian team we were all told were finally ready to launch an assault on the 6 Nations championship after spending last week rubbing French faces in the dirt and grabbing handfuls of bleu shirts to chuck asunder. Then against Scotland they reverted to type.
In front of them, it was the Scots backs who scored the four tries. And four different fellas, to boot.
That is a promising sign and one which at least suggests the team could yet climb out of the mire they have squished their cleats into over the last 12 months. The sight of a jet-healed Hogg tripping the light, fantastic, all the way up the park is a sumptuous reminder of what excitement can be enjoyed when watching Scotland.
Backing it up will not be easy. Even for the over-resourced giants burdened by hype, it is tough to back up significant, championship defining victories.
What Scotland must do is ensure that they are able to keep offering that backline ball. Clean ball. Ball they can float to each other without worrying about the ugly opponent dangling from the other end of it. If they ensure the likes of Rob Harley, Kelly Brown and Sean Lamont can keep hitting bodies while Richie Gray, Johnnie Beattie and Matt Scott keep making yards that should be easier to do.
Against Italy there was a heat at the breakdown. There was an intensity there that the proud Azzuri simply wilted in. Scotland need to maintain that, without going overboard and without detracting from it, so that a backline capable of bucking the national trend can continue to threaten.
In a fortnight, the Irish will be weakened. With every contact against England on Sunday they broke a little, and their skills deserted them. Players tried too much, legal and not so legal. It took its toll and while Simon Zebo is definitely out, Sean O’Brien is bruised and battered, Jonny Sexton is hamstrung and Cian Healy is in danger of being cited for hideous footwork at the ruck.
Therefore, when that side travel to Murrayfield, the Scots have an opportunity to show that they can back their performance up.
If they can continue to be ruthless against Ireland, it is fair to say they have changed. Otherwise, they are just the same old Scotland, flattering to deceive and doing just enough to evade the Wooden Spoon.
They need to click again and again.