Scotland threatening to lay waste to a season and a head coach's job
Scotland's Stuart Hogg on his way to scoring a try in their impressive victory over Italy at Murrayfield a fortnight ago. photograph: ian macnicol/getty images
IN FOCUS: SCOTLANDIt’s too soon to talk about a Scottish revival, but they are threatening to lay waste to Ireland’s season, and with it Declan Kidney’s time as head coach. High stakes tomorrow. And they have history in this regard.
Twelve years have passed since Scotland last managed back-to-back scalps in the Six Nations. The circumstances surrounding that meagre achievement are unusual, to say the least, but Irish rugby supporters of a certain age will remember the car crash viewing. Warren Gatland probably jolts awake at night whenever the trauma of September 2001 creeps into his subconscious.
Just like a fortnight ago, Italy were torn asunder by a half-decent Scotland side reacting to an English pounding. Due to the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, six months passed before Ireland made it up to Edinburgh and despite victories over Italy and France, their young Kiwi coach gave in to the urge of tinkering with a winning formula.
Out went Peter Stringer for Guy Easterby. Mick Galway made way for Jeremy Davidson and Shane Horgan switched to inside centre instead of Rob Henderson as Geordan Murphy started on the wing, only to be forced off with a puled hamstring.
Also, two young Munster flankers, Alan Quinlan and David Wallace, were dropped for Simon Easterby and Kieron Dawson. No Ireland team has undergone such radical alternations since. Until now.
Gatland learned a valuable lesson as kilted Kiwi John Leslie excelled in the mugging. It finished 32-10 and the Grand Slam/Championship dream went up in smoke.
Normal service resumed the following March as Ireland hammered them 43-22 at Lansdowne Road. The second most famous Brian O’Driscoll hat-trick. One of those tries sprang to mind when Stuart Hogg rubberstamped Luciano Orquera’s meltdown a fortnight ago by intercepting the Italian outhalf on his own five-metre line. After zig-zagging through a mass of bodies, the 20-year-old fullback hit the afterburners to go the length of Murrayfield.
The natives hadn’t seen one of their own score that kind of try for a generation. In fact, they haven’t seen many tries at all. Until now. Six tries in two games signifies a colossal leap forward for Scotland.
Nor is Hogg’s brilliance a one-off. He bagged a similar try against England ‘A’ last year and ran in a hat-trick for Glasgow against Munster at Musgrave Park. But the locals have been hurt too many times to believe this is the dawn of a bright new era. Not yet anyway.
“We are not confident,” said John Jeffrey, the legendary blonde-maned flanker from the 1990 Grand Slam-winning team. “You cannot be confident having just won one game in the last two years in the Six Nations. That would just be cocky.
“We will get confidence if we do our basics right, because only then will we give ourselves a chance of winning. Confident of victory? No. That would be very disingenuous to the Irish. We are optimistic.”
It smells like an ambush.
What are the reasons for being optimistic? For starters, take Ireland’s chronic injury list. Every single unit from the back three to frontrow has lost a guaranteed starter.