Predictions have been a dangerous game this summer, even more so than usual. Having been tipped as favourites, Wales were dominated by England (who were then lauded as champions elect) only to retake world number one status the weekend after.
This trend was mirrored in the Blediscoe Cup, and there is every chance Scotland will rise like a phoenix from the Nice ashes to prove this writer wrong at Murrayfield.
That said, their showing in France last weekend was dismal. Whilst capable of scintillating play, they have a porous defence and lack the physicality to cope with the best sides. Scotland are averaging four tries per game conceded at the moment, which is simply criminal.
Since then, defence coach Matt Taylor has come out to accept the blame, publicly declaring, “it’s a little bit about making sure we have the attitude and aggression first and foremost.”
“I’ll take that upon myself in that I didn’t get the boys pumped up like we should.”
“These warm-up games we’ve focused a lot on ourselves rather than the opposition. On reflection, maybe we should have poked and prodded and fired up the boys more than we did.”
The incoherence of these statements should worry Scottish fans. Can a coach at this level really be at fault for his players not being sufficiently fired up? Likewise, suggesting that lack of aggression was the issue, before also stating his side did not sufficiently focus on the opposition is strange, lacks consistency and indicates an acceptance that the French backline ran Scotland ragged, which is far more likely to be a result of structural issues than mental.
Gregor Townsend’s post-match comments also failed to instil confidence.
“We’ve worked hard, and we know the players are in really good physical shape but they’re obviously not match conditioned yet and we’ll look at how we can accelerate that over the next week or two,” he said (worrying news when you consider the level of intensity the Rugby Championship has been played at these last few weeks).
“We allowed them into the game by not making enough dominant collisions, dominant tackles and when you give a French team space, they can cause you damage, so that’s very disappointing.”
As BBC Scotland’s chief sportswriter Tom English put it, “this isn’t progression. This is worrying.” There is also an uncertainty around the squad selection wise that cannot be positive. Who is the captain? Who will partner Huw Jones in midfield? At nine is it Laidlaw or Price?
France too remain an enigmatic side, and to judge them on this performance alone would be a mistake. Ultimately though, they look to have developed some promising combinations, that are starting to look more settled, and have also returned to their traditional running game that has brought Toulouse success of late.
Up front they possess two elite hookers in Camille Chat and Guilhem Guirado, and three top class nines with Dupont, Serin and Machenaud all competing for one spot. Question marks surround Lopez at 10, but Romain Ntamack is an electric talent, as are Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud. Anyone who has seen Alivereti Raka perform for Clermont must also be excited to see him in a blue shirt.
Nevertheless, do they have the quality of coaching required to transfer individual ability into an efficient, well rounded eighty minute performance? That remains the key, and there was very little in France’s Six Nations performances to suggest they have.
Bullied and manipulated by England at Twickenham, they looked listless and were pulled every which way by Owen Farrell. For years they have had the players and have offered little of substance, so it is not unfair to remain sceptical.
Fundamentally, both these sides have the ability to hurt teams on their day, both are hopelessly inconsistent. Whilst neither has the look of champions, they are certainly capable of causing an upset (as capable as they are of losing to a minnow anyway) and should be treated with bemused caution.
Written by Joe Ronan