Scotland's ability to improvise delivers lesson in legerdemain

Scotland 19 France 14; Dods 2 Tries Benazzi; Dods 3 Penalties Lacroix 2, Castaignede
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Scotland may have pioneered the seven-a-side game but rarely has a country embraced the running ethic in an international with such abandon and to such glorious effect. Scotland's strategy was simply to run France off their feet and it may have been unorthodox and, at times, almost suicidal but, by God, it was invigorating.

If Scotland can keep this up the Grand Slam will be richly deserved. From the word go they played a style of ball game more reminiscent of the Harlem Globetrotters and equally as entertaining. On a mild, dry day conditions were suitable at Murrayfield for Scotland's brave experiment and it is not often you see France given a lesson in legerdemain. France's birthright was commandeered by the Scots.

"We've got a fast, mobile pack, an attacking back line and the right balance," Rob Wainwright, the captain, explained. "Our intention was to keep France guessing and to move that big eight of theirs around the pitch. We kept moving the point of contact."

France were bemused by the audacity of the strategy and were further frustrated by the penalty count, 15-7 in Scotland's favour. As for clean possession in the line-out, the score was 14-2 to Scotland. The principle culprit was Olivier Merle, who received a yellow card for stamping and spent the rest of the time barging in the line-out. He has to go.

This was a victory for brain over brawn and if Wainwright was the dashing captain at the vanguard of the light brigade, the half-backs, Bryan Redpath and Gregor Townsend, gave further evidence that they are the best pairing in the championship. "Gregor is a joy to work off," Wainwright said. "He got some lovely ball and Bryan's service is exemplary."

It is not just a neat pass that Redpath possesses. He had a hand, or a foot, in both of Scotland's tries. His kick to the left-hand corner for the first was perfectly executed and the chase (with Emile Ntamack engaged elsewhere) between Michael Dods and Laurent Cabannes resembled the hare versus the tortoise. For the second try Redpath again showed vision and improvisation, firing out a long pass to the unmarked Dods.

Dods's goalkicking has been erratic but even so in two games he has scored 32 points including three tries. The extraordinary thing is that Scotland are not missing Gavin Hastings and the inclusion of Rowen Shepherd, a risk-taker in the Townsend class, has given them another cutting edge. The move that led to the first try stemmed from a blinding flick reverse pass from Shepherd.

The transformation in Scotland is remarkable. They began with two poor performances against Western Samoa and Italy and the mood north of the border was further blackened by a rift between the Scottish Rugby Union and the clubs over participation in the European Cup. The SRU want Scotland to be represented by the districts but the clubs, already dismayed by the departure of leading players to England, feel they will be further impoverished if they are not allowed to compete. The matter will be debated at a special meeting at Murrayfield on Friday.

None of this appears to have had had the slightest effect on the morale or spirit of the national team who, under Wainwright, are running on innate footballing skills and adrenalin. "A few of us were very nervous before the start," Wainwright said."I was exceptionally nervous and we managed to turn that into an incredible feeling." His imprint is such that he has already established himself as a clear favourite to captain the Lions in South Africa next year.

Scotland were also sustained by what Wainwright described as the "Murrayfield Roar", a phenomenon that promises to be as uplifting as the Hampden Roar. "After the first five minutes I wasn't sure we could keep going at such a pace," Wainwright said, "but every time I felt tired I looked behind me and saw a French boy. When we made mistakes we got away with them because we always had more men around the ball than they did."

While Scotland didn't want to kick the ball, France couldn't. Carbonneau and Lacroix were completely outplayed and by the end, when the French went for one of their favourite rolling mauls, the juggernaut came to a shuddering stop. Hilton and McKenzie exchanged a high five in recognition of what they regarded as some sort of moral victory. Even the tortoise's shell was pierced.

Jim Telfer said it was not a "completely fulfilling performance". "At one point," he said, "we were trying to entertain rather than play a balanced game. We could have calmed things down a wee bit. We got a wee bit ambitious."

Richie Dixon, Telfer's fellow coach, said it was "not a case of being entertaining for entertainment's sake". Wainwright responded: "Entertainment is not a weakness." Scotland will probably compromise on the Whose Line is it Anyway? form of rugby for the remaining games against Wales and England but perhaps they shouldn't. They now have the team to move the ball at pace and when you embark on such an adventure it's all or nothing. Scotland's ambition thoroughly deserved to succeed.

Up in the Thistle suite they were drinking champagne with French onion soup. They had already consumed the coq au vin.

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); C Joiner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling County), M Dods (Northampton); G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), G Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), E Peters (Bath), I Smith (Gloucester).

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E Ntamack (Toulouse), A Penaud (Brive), T Castaignede (Toulouse), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); T Lacroix (Dax), P Carbonneau (Toulouse); M Perie (Toulon), J-M Gonzalez (Bayonne), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), F Pelous (Dax), L Cabannes (Racing Club de France).

Referee: C Thomas (Wales).

Comments