The Crippling Optimism of Scottish Rugby

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Scotland put in a fantastic performance against Argentina: a new coaching set-up, new leaders on the field and a brand new feeling that Scotland are finally going in the right direction. Does this all sound a bit familiar? This cycle of mindless optimism leading to ridiculous expectancy leading to inevitable failure has become the norm in the world of Scottish rugby in the past 10 years.

Yes, 41 points including 5 tries is unheard of for a Scottish team in recent years, especially at BT Murrayfield. Yes, the dynamism and attacking intent on offer was fantastically refreshing and I agree that the fact all of this has come from a young and relatively inexperienced Scotland squad is exciting. But this is not the first time that those in the Scottish media have heralded false-dawns and predicted a bright future on the back of an improved initial showing.

Does anyone remember Frank Hadden and his remarkable 2006 Six Nations campaign? Both France and the Auld Enemy were conquered at Murrayfield and there was a genuine sense that Scotland, as a rugby playing nation, had turned the corner. The following year Scotland were humbled at Murrayfield by Italy 37-17, handing Italy their first away win in the tournament. This was followed by a 5th place finish in 2009 and Hadden’s resignation in April of that year.

Andy Robinson’s Scotland rugby career followed a similar trajectory. He started with an impressive 23-10 victory over Fiji, drew 15-15 with England at Murrayfield in the 2010 Six Nations and even toppled South Africa 21-17 in that year’s Autumn Series. This was a pretty remarkable turn around from the squad bereft of confidence that Hadden had left him and it seemed that Robinson might be the man for the job after all. However, this was not the case. A dismal World Cup showing in 2011, followed by the wooden spoon in the 2012 Six Nations signalled the beginning of the end for Robinson. Even a brief resurgence and a gritty 9-6 win over the Wallabies in torrential rain down-under only momentarily halted the axe on the way down – an embarrassing home loss to Tonga (Scotland’s first ever loss to the Pacific Islanders) eventually proving to be the final straw.

Even when media-friendly Scott Johnson got involved, the inevitable (and by now well worn out) Scottish reaction of blind optimism was apparent. Unfortunately his claims about the dawn of a new era proved to be more smoke than fire as the irritatingly inconsistent Johnson chopped and changed his squads and his captains, famously leaving out captain Kelly Brown from the 23 for the Calcutta Cup match of this year’s Six Nations. Johnson constantly appealed for consistency from his players without displaying any of his own with regards to both selection and captaincy. He very much seemed to be acting like a man that knew the job wasn’t his in the long term – and while he might argue that the more combinations he tried the easier it will be for his successor Vern Cotter to build a stronger squad, Johnson still had a duty to the supporters to put out a side that had at least a chance of winning these games.

And now we come to the new man, and the beginning of his journey. He oversaw two victories over the USA and Canada in the summer – although it was claimed he took a fairly hands off approach and didn’t implement many of his ideologies. And now he has masterminded Scotland to a victory over an Argentinian side that claimed their first Rugby Championship victory over the Wallabies mere weeks ago. As to be expected, the Scottish media have roared out from the rocks they have been hiding behind since the Six Nations and are now claiming that Scotland is an up and coming nation that could give the All-Blacks a fright.

Give it a rest!

Scotland shipped 31 points to an Argentinian side well below their best who were missing key players and showed enough ill-discipline to receive two yellow cards. What is going to happen if the same sort of lacklustre attitude is given to defending the whitewash when the returning Daniel Carter and his buddies come to town.

Thankfully, there does seem to be something different this time around. Something that hasn’t been apparent in Scottish Rugby for a long time. With all due respect to Hadden and Robinson, success with Edinburgh is one thing, but turning Clermont Auvergne into the perennial super power they now are is a far more impressive achievement. An unbeaten home record stretching over 75 games is something that the BT Murrayfield stadium is crying out for, and it would be a welcome return to the days of old when Scotland was a hard place to visit for opposing sides. On top of this, Scotland has a professional team worth its title again. Glasgow Warriors are scaling the heights domestically and on the european stage and the best part about it is that at the core of all of this are young talented Scottish players. Players like Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell and Jonny Gray are being exposed to top class rugby at Glasgow and that surely will benefit both them and the Scotland team in the long run.

These are reasons to be optimistic for every Scottish rugby fan, and optimism isn’t a bad thing. But claims of surprising the All-Blacks are heavily premature and unhelpful to a squad still coming to terms with its new management. Instead of building this young group of players up for the inevitable fall, why not limit our praise and optimism rather than ignoring all criticism purely because Scotland are finally scoring tries again.

No-one wants Scotland to triumph over the All-Blacks more than I do, and if we don’t stifle the creativity and attacking flair of this young Scottish side through unnecessary pressure, who knows, one day it might happen.

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