The Scotland rugby World cup men’s team started 2022 with the Calcutta Cup at home to England, their second straight Calcutta Cup opening. There can be a lot of things in Scotland under head coach Gregor Townsend, but Eddie Jones’ phased England has generally not been.
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On the pitch within 20 minutes of Ali Price as he passed the HIA, London-based Irish scrum-half Ben White got off to a great start to his Scotland career with a try after Darcy Graham’s typically inarticulate break.
Finn Russell’s penalty shortly before half-time kept the score in favor of Scotland, possibly against the flow of the game, but Marcus Smith got England breathing down the back of his head – and attempted shortly before the hour to put England on the board. The skipper, Stuart Hogg, displayed for a moment or two a madness that suggested that the captain’s weight did not quite suit the Howick man, however much he desired the honor.
Scotland seemed to be struggling to get ahead until Russell was able to catch the ball in a superb back-to-back cross-field shot. The bustling Murrayfield – the full crowd back in harness for the first time since Covid – exploded with life before Finn froze the penalty cake that slipped into the post to make it 20-17.
Certainly Jones will not be England’s manager for next year’s second leg, which sees England once again face off against the first weekend. In that game, Jamie Ritchie also suffered an injury that kept him out of the field until the fall, but allowed impressive youngster Rory Darge to climb up the team roster and be benched for the next game. And the next weekend the score was exactly the same: 20-17 in favor of the hosts.
Unfortunately, this meant that Scotland came out on the wrong side of Wales rugby world cup team. As should have been the theme of the year, the pairing of flanks by Doohan van der Merwe and Darcy Graham was at the heart of everything good Scotland did in attack and even defense; with Finn pulling the strings out of the standoff, but Scotland as a whole has been alarmingly inconsistent.
Russell’s slightly skittish jersey boot contrasted with the formidable Dan Biggar, who kept Pivak’s Wales in contact throughout the first half. Ultimately, Biggar scored the final points; his game-winning goal went missing when Russell was in the bin due to one of those whether it was a deliberate hit or he was trying to catch it; shortly before this, having half-flopped his own attempt to score a goal. However, this was not to be the biggest blot in his notebook for the year.
This was not an away match behind closed doors in a Covid-era Diddy stadium; it was a real chance to beat Wales in the Principality, something we rarely did in the Gatland era. Now that Peewack has been given a boost, we’re back in a sort of Gatland era, at least until next spring. Will we ever get another chance like this? We have to wait at least a year and the Rugby World Cup to find out.
As we moved through the middle of the tournament faster than a Qatari cork sliding into a brown envelope, the resurgent Les Bleues came into town. Perhaps France scored from Antoine Dupont and that was expected – they will score at least two on their way to a bonus points victory – just not in the first eight minutes please?
Ali Price, who had a very rewarding tournament after the Lions’ selection, tried to delay the try, but Rory Darge signaled his full international entry to the world by scoring a few minutes later.
Scotland could have taken the lead at half-time if top-back Chris Harris had made any three-on-one overlap pass. I know the virtues of a quick wide pass, but no one else teaches you to lock down your defender and pass down the line when the need arises? Everyone does it in the warm-up, for heaven’s sake.
Whatever the case, Gael Ficu went around most of the Scottish team to score instead and give the visitors an even bigger lead at half time, which we couldn’t overcome. France moved towards the Grand Slam despite a typical hands-off approach to their goal. They sometimes play all-out rugby, which is frighteningly exciting and should be favorites for their own France Rugby World Cup in 2023.
Scotland, on the other hand, went to Rome to make sure Italy kept the wooden spoon, facing a home team that had never won a Six Nations match (they broke that duck against Wales later in the tournament) everyone’s enjoyment. For more know about Rugby World Cup Tickets.
In the end, Scotland found it quite convenient; they scored a field goal of their own, and Harris ended up as the scorer – Ali Price showed him how to make a long pass at full stretch in the process. Supersub Ange Capuozzo showed a bright spark for Italy on his debut; he and Darcy Graham show that little guys still have a place in international rugby. If they have dealt with Eddie Jones’s Italy and England, then Scotland at times seems utterly unable to solve the riddle that Andy Farrell’s Ireland presents.
The tournament ended in a real 26-5 choke in Dublin. The highly erratic Scots were thwarted by being banished to the bench by Finn Russell, who was scapegoated for joining the rest of the leaderboard for a few beers to celebrate Ali Price’s 50th cap last weekend, apparently in violation of team protocol .
Pierre Schuman’s try before half-time would be Scotland’s only point in a game that also featured headless performances from Price, Graham and Hogg, who had great tournaments at the time. Bad management of the game and Scotland’s mistakes were exacerbated by Johnny Sexton coming out of hibernation for one of his “foot in the throat” rugby master classes where Scotland simply couldn’t escape the Irish pressure.
Having failed to overthrow France, Sexton and Ireland instead claimed the Triple Crown. Possibly guilty of trying too hard to keep the team when they hesitated (or to make up for a trip to the pub that, as a skipper, he may have had to avoid or veto), Hogg would lose the captaincy after this match and miss summer tour.
Rugby World Cup – Scotland in Argentina, Summer 2022
Our natural place in rugby’s world order, restored by humility in Dublin, other teams have been looking forward to tours to Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Scotland prepared for a less stellar but still challenging three-match tour of Argentina.
Of course, my complaints that I will never get to tour New Zealand (and others) are not entirely fair. The three test series in Scotland were in fact the first such series that Scotland had ever played overseas. Maybe the good old days weren’t really as good as we thought?
They didn’t quite live up to a place at the big boys’ table in those performances, playing at least three halves of terrible rugby in a series that Argentina at times equally poor won in the final match. Despite the A-team warming up against Chile, it was unclear if this was really a developmental tour – Blair Kinghorn’s experiment at 10 went on quickly, but Russell and Hogg were the only Lions to rest at home while Hugh’s injury-induced absence Jones and Adam Hastings may have put some of the experiments that Tooney had in mind on hold.
Tour skipper Grant Gilchrist was left out of the third test and, although Hamish Watson has performed well, he will not be used in a similar role in the fall. Scotland probably did enough to win the first Test with live-back Rory Hutchinson, but the usual issues of indiscipline and inconsistency let them down, with Argentina proving to be a hard-fought opponent under their new coach Michael Cheika.
The second Test was probably the best of the series, especially in terms of the Scots as they beat Argentina 29-6 with a brilliant performance in the second half. The third test went to the breaking point, both sides scored well and Watson’s Scottish pack looked like they could hold out until Edinburgh’s favorite Emiliano Boffelli pinned him to death to infuriate the locals. To be honest, Argentina probably deserved it.
Overall, Blair Kinghorn did pretty well at 10 and certainly scored the majority of his goals, something we would all easily forget about in the fall. Mark Bennett had a very good tour, both centers cut excellent lines from the first receiver, but he was hardly used in the fall, as was Rory Hutchinson.
In the pack, the second row continued to wobble in set position, but at least Matt Fagerson looked like he finally answered the question of who was the best number 8 – at least until Australian captain Jack Dempsey decided whether he will throw his fate. with the Scots later in the year due to new residency rules.
Even after a lackluster tour, no one expected there would be much talk about Gregor Townsend’s job being in jeopardy less than a year before the Rugby World Cup. Then he announced his squad, and Finn Russell was gone.
The Racing 92 driver would have been unavailable for the away Test against Australia and was expecting the birth of his first child any day now, but nevertheless made himself available for selection after the summer break. Tooney’s talk of poor “form” meaning Finn was essentially now the fourth pick behind Kinghorn, Hastings and Ross Thompson was panned by the media and fans.
Suddenly, an already challenging fall series looked like Townsend was throwing the dice at his job in a battle of wills with his headstrong playmaker, rather than celebrating the resurgence of Richie Gray like we really should have.
Kinghorn’s day off with a boot in a game that would see Scotland beat Dave Rennie’s wallaby did nothing to quiet the noise, especially with Finn Russell’s highlight reels appearing online after each successive Top 14 race win and the percentage of hits in the highest 90s.
The expelled players returned to the squad, Adam Hastings was handed over the reins to defeat Fiji, but he was quickly injured. Loud groans around Murrayfield as Kinghorn came off the bench did little to bolster the young man’s self-confidence, as he unwittingly became a pawn in a battle of wills between Townsend and Scotland fans.
Rumors circulated that Finn would still have been reinstated to play in New Zealand as part of the existing plan; as his undeniable form led to him being called up and right in the starting 10 jersey to face the All Blacks. Five years after the Doddy Weir-inspired slip, the big man and his family are back to introduce the match ball, and Weir is now visibly suffering from the ravages of motor neurone disease.
New Zealand pulled out of the block shots and took a 0:14 lead in 7 minutes, but the Scots responded by trying to ride their luck with all their might: first Hogg and then Graham scored opportunistic points before, wait for him, building a comfortable gap.
Russell’s near-perfect performance saw Scotland take a 23-14 lead, breaking the hour mark, before one of those ‘deliberate tackle’ cards against Jack Dempsey forced New Zealand back into the game and knocking out the winners.
The lack of concentration during their purple spot (corresponding to the new shirts) meant that Scotland left two or three misses with the ball less than a meter from the line and could be out of sight. It was so uplifting, but so frustrating. Anyway, Doddy deserved a little piece of history that day, and the boys will know it.
The year ended with the fourth match against Argentina, and it was at least encouraging in many ways. In a departure from the close encounters of the summer, Scotland staggered Argentina aided by a red card in the 20th minute and a draw of 12 away at one point with Sione Tuipulotu putting in his best game for Scotland, blowing holes in the entire defence. Speaking of punching, there were a few matching handbags in the test that was filled with drama, and Jamie Ritchie participated in some high-quality sledding with his colleague.
Chris Harris, as usual, was a rock on defense and, as usual, did not inspire offensively. His game was to get the ball out of his hands in a half-time tackle and then almost smash 3 on 1 (again) just for the titanic bulk, uh, Darcy Graham to keep from blushing and diving. from a close distance.
However, it was Finn’s show that answered its critics with Man of the Match with a plethora of scampers, half-breaks and incredible unloads that showed he had a hand in all 7 of Scotland’s attempts – and very few of the “fickle” mistakes that we still hear about. Ironically, all of this made Townsend the most trusted coach in the Northern Hemisphere by the end of the year.
RIP Doddie Weir, 1970-2022
Rugby year did indeed end with the terribly sad news that MND took the ‘mad giraffe’ Doddy Weir away from us too early, just weeks after he appeared at BT Murrayfield. Known as a huge character on and off the field, the indomitable manner in which he began to battle the dreaded disease in order to not only surpass his original prognosis but help turn things around for the better for so many others was awe inspiring.
The legacy of this work will no doubt live on through his family and the amazing work of his My Name’5 Doddie Foundation in fundraising, leading new disease research and supporting the sick. Please support their work whenever you have the chance. He will be greatly missed in the world of Scottish rugby and in the rugby community at large.
Where Now for Scotland?
Gregor Townsend will have little time to sit still during the holiday period. There is a lot of work to be done, with the sad possibility that no matter how well he does, we may still have to struggle to avoid the Wooden Spoon and be eliminated in the group stage next year.
In what seemed like an unlikely pairing of two 13s, the use of a Harris + Sione (Harrisione Ford anyone? No?) raised questions for a future choice. Harris, with his offensive limitations, can’t sit on the bench – starts or doesn’t start at all. We can’t plan if we lose 25 points in the first quarter and need a damage-capped sub. Or if so, I don’t watch.
On the other hand, some combination of Sione or Cam Redpath can work very well for a sharp attacking force in the final stages. Yes, Argentina was down to 14 (at best), but when Redpath showed up in the final game, they had to shut down more than just Finn (which they couldn’t anyway). Hugh Jones has finally arrived in Glasgow and he will be in the mix too.
Will we be too easy to protect if we rely on Finn all the time? The opponents of the pool next year, Ireland and South Africa, will do their best to stifle it, and then where are we? We can’t do without a spark in midfield, even now that Hoggy has regained his energy off the captain’s armband and our flanks are great in their own way. Is the Redpath/Harris pair reliable enough to take on, say, the Sides from the start?
It hurts to think about it. However, at least we know that Bata’s new signing Finn Russell is a 10-year-old human. It’s alright, Toon, we don’t keep score. The front row group looks balanced, with Schumann/Sutherland and Turner/Brown/Ashman alternating easily depending on form provided the coaching team can recognize this.
In tighthead, this is a more difficult challenge, as Zander Fagerson and his wobbly hamstring were out until the start of the Six Nations, meaning experimentation will be required at least in January when Townsend announces his next lineup. Can we see calls from Murphy Walker and Murray McCallum?
Richie Gray earned a shot next year thanks to brilliant performances in the fall, and while the question is still who is Gray’s running mate in the second row, now it’s Gray’s other brother and there’s no clear answer yet.
Persistent injury concerns for Rory Darge and Hamish Watson also make back-court selection an interesting area as they have played a fairly consistent team since the spring with the useful addition of Jack Dempsey. Jamie Ritchie did enough as captain in the fall to suggest the role is his, at least until this time next year. But the sharper Luke Crosby may well intervene.
With big selection questions (especially in the center and second row) ahead of the Rugby World Cup, no clear style of play and infrequent wins against anyone other than England, everything is more undecided than ever. Such is the life of a fan of Scotland.
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