Monday, 17 November 2008

Thwarted again

Apologies for not getting a post up earlier today - a combination of recovering from the half marathon I ran yesterday (first race since January/ ill-health enforced absence) and doing other things. This one isn't really about politics.

I had the pleasure of attending Scotland's latest Autumn Test against South Africa on Saturday. The 14-10 final scoreline didn't really tell the full story of the match - other than showing how close Scotland ran the reigning World Champions. The loss was hard to take for a number of reasons, not least because we probably shouldn't have lost.

In all, Scotland missed 4 penalty kicks on Saturday, which is remarkable on the basis that with Chris Paterson had an incredible run of 36 successful kicks from 36 attempts between August 2007 and June 2008. However, Paterson had to leave the game after only five minutes with a facial injury. Stand-off Phil Godman (himself subject to a head injury) missed two penalties - one (with 5 minutes to go) from right in front of the posts, while his replacement, stand-off Dan Parks also missed two. Those 12 points were crucial in what was to end up as a low scoring game.

One of Scotland's coaches, Sean Lineen, has voiced his criticism of the fans who booed Dan Parks on Saturday puts it. I don't care that the guy "tries hard every time he pulls on the jersey" as Lineen says. The bottom line is he is just not good enough. And while I respect Lineen for what he has done in a Scotland jersey in the past, he shouldn't be criticising the fans who pay good money to watch Scotland play. I have been one of the most vociferous critics of Parks simply because he doesn't do what Scotland need a player in his position to do. His kicking game is okay at best but his decision-making is highly questionable. And while I keep attending Scotland games, I'll reserve the right to voice my opinion.

Stand-off is a problem position for Scotland, and filling it has become crucial. Our forwards have come onto a decent game - especially in the scrum, though the lineout needs some work in the absence of Scott Murray - and in Blair, Lawson and Cusiter we have three scrum-halfs that could probably get into any team in the world. Our backline is even improving - with the Lamonts and Thom Evans on the wings, Ben Cairns and even Nick de Luca showing massive improvement against South Africa. Hugo Southwell replaced Paterson at full-back and was impressive with his up-and-under kicking and under the high ball - two areas that Paterson is suspect in. We need a 10 that can utilise the good ball that the forwards secure.

So here's a suggestion - that I know isn't popular in some areas, and it has been tried before (though not for any extended period of time). Leave Dan Parks out the squad entirely. He has been due to be dropped for longer than I can remember. Drop Godman to the bench and play Chris Paterson at stand-off. Southwell played much better than Paterson at full-back and showed he should be starting there. Playing Paterson at full-back has been done only to ensure he starts somewhere but Southwell has shown that it isn't feasible to leave him out.

It's a temporary solution I know. But until we can unearth our own James Hook or retrain Chris Cusiter completely to play at 10, I see no other way to make sure our best kicker is in the side AND have a decent link between the forwards and the backs. I know he has been tried there before, but it hasn't been for long enough for him to settle. Parks has been tried for long enough and found wanting on too many occasions. We need to do something different, and I don't think Phil Godman showed enough on Saturday.

This sounds fairly pessimistic (Hi, I'm Malc, have we met?!) but there are some positives to take from the game. We held the World Champions to 14 points. We battered them in the first half and in the closing ten minutes but couldn't find a way through. With someone else kicking we'd probably have won. And the forwards have shown that they are a pack that can take on some of the best forwards in the world and win ball. At the end of the day though, we lost - and we're now out of the top 8 in the world - and, consequently, will be among the third seeds at the next World Cup. Which just makes things harder.


Anonymous,  17 November 2008 at 19:31  

I saw your headline and expected a Calman post! ;-)

Holyrood Patter 18 November 2008 at 00:00  

I think we are now experiencing a bit of what Ireland get so much of. in previous years, when we have fluctuated in terms of quality, you got the impression that the whole team was at roughly the same level.

With this mob, there are a few real standouts. Players that look of world class ability. Ross Ford was outstanding. Having watched the Southern Hemisphere No. 9s in action, Blair is staking a real claim for best scrum half in the world.

Malc 18 November 2008 at 10:16  

Blair is really the only guy that will walk into the Lions side next year. The forwards are looking better, but until we get a backline that can do anything we will always be struggling.

I'm not convinced that my plan for Paterson at 10 works - even if it is just to accomodate him for his kicking. Maybe drop him and - as has been suggested to me - persist with Godman at 10? No, I don't agree either...

Holyrood Patter 18 November 2008 at 12:42  

No, i'm not so sure.
I dont even know if Paterson has a decent position left, been found wanting at 15 and 11 this year.

If only this was american football, just bring him on for the kicks

Sam 18 November 2008 at 13:24  

I wasn't going to comment as I didn't see either of Scotland's games (and i'm English).

But if you don't mind me saying, you don't have any other decent 10's. Even if Paterson isn't really a 10 he's the best (only) choice. Then you have to build a gameplan around stubborn forward play winning you penalties for him to kick. As you don't really have any penetration from your backs. Work with what you've got.

Sort of like England circa 2004-2007!

Malc 18 November 2008 at 13:37  

The Englishman makes a good point(!)

I'm not convinced with Godman at 10, but if that is who Hadden goes with then he has to give him an extended run - and get him to practice kicking. Paterson isn't a 10... but I think its the only place he can play in this team.

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