This afternoon Scotland play Italy in the Six Nations’ most predictably uninteresting clash. Year on year these two flatter to deceive, year on year they put together a series of encouraging half performances, flashes of quality, moments of brilliance and yet still manage to lose with equal regularity. Neither have ever won the expanded Six Nations.
Scotland like to think of themselves as better than Italy, part of that tier below the very best but slightly above mediocrity. In and amongst the Wales, Ireland, Argentina, Australia, England grouping. At present, the question must be asked, on what justification? Georgia and Japan are knocking on the door. It surely is not enough for them to beat Italy every year. They lost to Japan last autumn, they have failed to register a significant win since defeating England at Murrayfield two years ago.
Scotland are currently ranked 9th in the world, they are a country with a small population and tighter resources than some, but if they have ambitions to change that status they have to aspire for me.
They are stagnating, and they look a significantly worse side for the absence of Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russel at half back. That is two be expected, they are two world class players no longer available, but for all Adam Hastings’ undoubted quality, he is not yet the calibre of Russel. Ali Price, on the other hand, is a significantly worse option at test level than Laidlaw, in my opinion. His delivery can be slow, he too often takes multiple steps from the base to no effect, and his kicking game is far inferior.
Stuart Hogg is the obvious choice at captain, comfortably the sides’ best player, a natural leader in his playing style, who shoulders responsibility by producing big moments. It is too early to pass judgement on his captaincy, but he has not looked himself so far in his new role. He has looked to be forcing things somewhat, and could do with letting things come naturally, taking the pressure off himself. Blair Kinghorn is a player to watch and admire, fluid and fast and physical, but we have seen precious little of him ball in hand so far.
Today could be the day that Scotland cut loose, demonstrate the incisiveness that has been missing. The question remains though, can an annual victory against Italy really be satisfactory? These are the questions Townsend needs to find the answers too.
They have the players. Ritchie, Watson and Bradbury has a lovely balance to it as a backrow; McInally and Fagerson are players of real quality; Sam Johnson gives them clarity and solidity at 12 – they have to start getting the results this cohort of players are capable of. Scotland can beat Italy, but it cannot be enough, it should only be the start.
Written by Joe Ronan.