Scotland’s floundering RBS Six Nations rugby players have been given reasons to be hopeful ahead of a trip to Twickenham next time out – and it comes from a former England World Cup winner.
Ex-centre Will Greenwood, who shared in the 2003 global triumph, has been analysing performances including Saturday’s 19-22 defeat by Italy at BT Murrayfield.
Greenwood believes that while the situation might be desperate it need not be entirely hopeless for a team which has just dropped to tenth in the international rankings, one place below this Autumn’s World Cup pool opponents, Samoa. Greenwood has listed five Scottish positives from the campaign so far as well as a similar number of negatives to back up his assertions.
Statiscally, Scotland were ahead in virtually every aspect against the Azzurri except the all-important scoreboard.
And it is the competitive nature of the side that Greenwood has seized on in looking to sugar coat a record now showing five successive home defeats in the blue riband tournament for the first time since 1970.
“Narrow margins of defeat mean games are winnable,” said Greenwood when recalling how the Scots went down 8-15 in France and 23-26 at home to Wales.
The fact that arguably the two toughest games are coming up with England at Twickenham and then Ireland heading to Murrayfield at the end of the tournament should, in fact, be embraced as a ready-made chance to make the season memorable rather than miserable.
“Pre-World Cup two tough games will help not hinder – go and play,” he said while insisting: “the coaching staff will not panic.”
Summing up Scotland, Greenwood maintained “First choice XV is very talented,” adding “players who can beat players in one-on-one confrontations gives them hope.”
Balancing out his upbeat approach there are obviously causes for concern and primary among them is an error count that made for a “horror show” last time out although this could be due to “self belief now on the floor”.
The fact Scotland failed to keep out the match-winning Italian maul maybe ignores the absence of heavyweight Ben Toolis on a yellow card at that stage but that reflected “poor execution” while the time taken to react to the Italian penalty kick that rebounded into play is branded a “shocker”.
Greenwood also noted that lack of squad depth is always likely to mean a struggle when players are missing but Finn Russell, Adam Ashe, David Denton, Jim Hamilton and Sean Maitland could all be available for selection for the Calcutta Cup match with the only fitness worry being the back spasm suffered by hooker Ross Ford.
While Greenwood has a glass-half-full outlook his England centre predecessor, Jerry Guscott, appears more pragmatic.
“When you stop trying to take positives from negatives and start dealing with reality, Scotland’s defeat by Italy shows that they have gone backwards from last season under Scott Johnson,” he said. “Coach Vern Cotter said after the match that he was “not getting the message across” to his team. That is very telling about what is going on inside the Scotland team.
“While a lot of the post-mortem focused on fly-half Peter Horne’s failure to find touch from a penalty late in the match when his side led, Scotland’s defeat was a more general story of missed opportunities and basic errors.
“Cotter has to keep drumming his principles into his players – to play the more expansive game that suits their exciting runners, without pushing their luck too far.
“They have to keep remembering the quality of their performance away to France, the opportunities they created against Wales and where they could be in the tournament.
“In all three games they are left with what-ifs, wondering about little things they could have changed and possibly won. It will be tough for them now,” Guscott told the BBC website.