SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Scotland blew England away with a stunning all-round performance but they have never put a Six Nations run together… so can their quality and strength in depth make them more than one-hit wonders?
- Scotland were always going to get themselves up for the England fixture
- But they must go again and that has been their biggest problem in modern times
- Scotland have never put a run together to challenge for the Six Nations title
- Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Finn Russell’s experience could help them do that
If last week’s Calcutta Cup game against England was huge for Scotland, Saturday evening’s match against Wales is even bigger.
Scotland were always going to get themselves up for England and, although I did not predict their win, I always thought they would pose a major threat.
As it happened, despite the narrow looking 11-6 scoreline, they blew England away with a magnificent all-round performance.
Scotland’s game against Wales is even bigger than their Calcutta Cup win against England
Despite the narrow looking scoreline, they blew England away with an all-round performance
But now they must go again and that has been their biggest problem in modern times. There have been heartening wins over England, South Africa, France, Australia — in fact, just about everybody bar New Zealand — but they have been one-offs. They have never put a run together to challenge for the Six Nations or to make an impact at the World Cup.
That must change. They now have the quality and strength in depth to back it up and this is where the recent experience of Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Finn Russell could also kick in.
Hogg and Gray have had to do that every week since they moved to Exeter Chiefs. They are star, ‘marquee’ players. They get the big bucks and put their reputations on the line.
Stuart Hogg (right) and Jonny Gray’s experience needs to kick in to make them consistent
It has been a brilliant move for both, the pressure is on constantly and they have embraced that.
Ditto Russell at Racing. Every game in the French league is a challenge while Racing are one of the clubs who put it all on the line in Europe every year as well.
The Scotland team must take their cue from that trio. They must be as good on Saturday evening as they were last week against England. Wales rather scraped their win against Ireland and have picked up a hatful of injuries.
They will have taken confidence from the victory but, if Scotland replicate their 80 minutes excellence of last week, I think they are there for the taking.
The pressure is on constantly for Finn Russell (middle) too and they have all embraced that
Ireland v France
This is going to be a cracker. Team of the moment and tournament favourites France against an Ireland side fighting to stay relevant in this season’s tournament.
Ireland shot themselves in the foot against Wales last week with the early and deserved dismissal of Peter O’Mahony but for a large chunk of the game they actually went pretty well, given their talisman lock James Ryan also departed early with a concussion.
Their forwards, with Tadhg Beirne outstanding, looked a strong unit but playing shorthanded caught up with them a couple of times in the second half and that was the difference.
Ireland shot themselves in the foot against Wales last week with Peter O’Mahony’s red card
The absence of half-backs Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton is a blow but Ireland will enjoy the underdog tag and can still be extremely competitive. You still have to fancy France though.
They have so many players who can strike with an X-factor moment and of course they have Antoine Dupont. The only thing that could really derail the French is if they themselves have a Peter O’Mahony moment and lose a man.
We will now see if this rejuvenated France team has the mettle to handle the occasion.
Shaun Edwards has been working on their mental approach and, in that respect, Sunday is a big day. Ireland will be looking to get among them, just as Scotland did against Les Bleus last year when France had a player sent off. The French need to stay cool and let their talent do the talking.
You still have to fancy France though, they have X-factor players and Antoine Dupont (left)
TV: Ireland v France tomorrow 3pm, LIVE on ITV from 2.15pm.