So, there we have it. The 2017 Six Nations Championship was a successful one for Scotland, with our expectations – which were never set unrealistically high – met, with three wins from our three home games against Ireland, Wales and on Saturday against the Italians.
Scotland played well, and, did everything that was expected of them. The biggest thing for me was that ‘nil’ in the final score. That was pleasing. Stopping the opposition scoring in a Test is always an achievement, but Italy – even when losing this season – have had the ability to score tries and points. To shut them down like that, particularly a week after the roof had caved in against England, would mean a lot to the players and coaches.
And again on Saturday, we have been able to watch Scotland running in four tries. A few years ago, we celebrated if that was our account for the season!
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The Scots really do have an edge to them when it comes to finishing. Again, you can’t coach that – what it comes down to is having the belief and confidence to carry it through, and, a wee bit of greed amongst the back division who want to score at every opportunity.
The win over Italy was well constructed, well managed and above all else, well received by the crowd who expected a win and were not disappointed. It was also a fitting send off to Vern Cotter, who I still think, is moving on with only half the job done.
When he took over, he spoke to a lot of people, like Jim Telfer. He wanted to understand the mindset and make-up of Scottish rugby and their players. He did it quietly; while others like Williams, Robinson and Johnson talked a good game during their time as coach, Cotter has gone about his business quietly, keeping his thought to himself on many occasions, but working incredibly hard to turn Scotland around, and, get a squad together that has quality and depth.
You always get grumbles and a bit of sniping and backbiting in squads with 30 guys in it who all think they’ve got what it takes to be a starter. But I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t have the utmost respect for everything Vern Cotter has done. The players love him, and, you saw that with the emotion shown on the pitch at the end of Saturday’s game.
You saw what he meant to the players, and what they and Scotland meant to him. Cotter has set the bar high. He’s probably bowed out with a B+ this term. That gives Gregor Townsend a great starting point – but a hard act to follow.
But what a day in the Six Nations. In Paris, we had a game lasting 100 minutes. It was almost farcical, when you had 20 minutes added on where the French and Welsh players looked as if they didn’t know what was happening. I’m not sure the referee, coaches or TV producers were any better informed.
I don’t think we’ve heard the end of it, or some of the incidents, with players ruled okay one minute, then deemed concussed the next, and George North alleging he’d been bitten. I would never have thought about biting a player – probably because I’d known where some of them had been!
The day ended with England celebrating winning the Six Nations, although what they really wanted was another Grand Slam and a world record of consecutive wins. But it wasn’t to be.
Some will be critical of them, for not seeing the job through, but not me.
On the very first day of the championship, there were plenty of Irishman who had March 18 in their diary as showdown day against the English, a Grand Slam, Triple Crown and Championship decider. However, by the time Ireland got there, they’d lost two matches.
They won back their pride in denying England, with an extraordinary effort. But they were desperate to beat the English. And that is where this England team can be very proud of everything they’ve achieved. Because every nation wants to beat England, and every team gives an extra 10% or more just to try and make that happen. You see it from Scotland, the Welsh, the French, even Italy.
Overcoming those levels of intensity, for 18 matches, regardless of who the opponent are, is remarkable. A lot of people commenting over the last few days have only concentrated on England losing, not the incredible game the Irish played (as they did to beat the All Blacks in Chicago) to turn them over, or, all the rugby played by England to put themselves in that position. England, and Eddie Jones, shouldn’t be judged on this one game.
And a year out from the 2018 Six Nations, only a brave man would bet against a third successive title.