Scotland can be third force in Six Nations – Parks
That’s the view of former stand-off Dan Parks, who believes new coach Vern Cotter’s team can cash in on home advantage against Ireland, Wales and Italy.
The downside, and probably the reason Scotland are 25-1 outsiders for the title, is the fact they have to visit Paris where the team have not won since 1999 and Twickenham where the last tartan triumph was more than three decades ago.
Taking stock of five-try wins against Argentina and Tonga as well as a narrow loss to New Zealand, the 66-times capped Parks said: “Realistically, Scotland are the most-improved team from this autumn series. So far everybody has played three matches but Scotland have certainly shown to me the most in respect of where they can potentially go.
“Ireland are the form team you probably have to beat in the Six Nations. But it is realistic for Scotland, with three home ties, to potentially finish third. Anything above that would be fantastic. Third would be a positive step and a marker on a big year for Scotland going into the World Cup.”
Central to Parks’ hopes, is the emergence of a stand-off successor with sound credentials in 22-year-old Finn Russell, of whom he said: “The crazy thing is if you were to mention the name Finn Russell a year ago to the day nobody would have heard the name. He was playing club rugby with Ayr and wasn’t really seen.
“The reality is a lot of players who had played with Finn at club and province level had really spoken highly of him.
“Rory Lamont has been saying he could see signs of a really talented player. It was about getting that opportunity and taking it with two hands.
“He got an opportunity on tour to be involved in the first two matches and has been fantastic.
“He’s had injury concerns in more recent times but at the moment the No.10 jersey is his.
“He also combines well at half-back with Greig Laidlaw who is a very good organiser. Greig seems to be releasing the ball when Finn is calling for it.
“I am excited to see what else there is to come from Finn. He is a very young man but there’s a maturity. He’s got it all so far as I am concerned ... a good head on his shoulders, he likes to attack. He’s not scared to take the line on.
“He certainly does carry well and is very strong in contact, although there are a few times where he might have got himself into trouble without much support.
“Every week he is learning more and more.”
Parks made clear where Scottish optimism stems from. “There’s depth in each position,” he said. “If you go from 1-15 you have at least have two international players in each position. That’s why they have had such a successful campaign.
“To beat New Zealand would have been something pretty special and the guys realise how close they were. It was a massive opportunity missed and was down to a lack of belief. But it is a good opportunity going forward.
“Scotland played an expansive game but they showed how they can vary it if it is not quite working.
“Tonga played quite smart in the first 40 minutes. In the right territory they held on to ball and Scotland gave away too many kickable penalties.
“The influence of Greig Laidlaw showed in the second half as they kept control, kept things tight and the line-out in particular really took over.
“Jonny and Richie Gray took over and Scotland had really clean ball. With a good service from 9 to 10 Scotland could play rugby.”
“To score 11 tries (in the series) is a real sign of where the nation is … very positive.”
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The key to sporting success is increasingly shown to be pace off the mark both going forward and in cutting down the opposition’s time to think. The Scots backs have this in abundance and it was just a pity that Mark Bennett had no opportunity to show his outside breaking power before he was invalided out of the series early on against New Zealand.
THE HOY FACTOR
Scottish cyclist Chris Hoy has spoken often about trying to improve on aspects of performance by a miniscule amount. These all add up, of course, and Scotland’s new coach Vern Cotter also seems to be an exponent of this approach.
A QUALITY BENCH
There was physicality waiting in the wings in the form of David Denton, who is playing his way back to fitness in time for the Six Nations plus experienced impact players such as Chris Cusiter ready to ask fresh questions. Cotter also found a way of ensuring nobody was left on the outside at full-time. Remember poor Pat McArthur left standing on a touchline for several minutes without getting a debut last season? These days are gone and nobody who was with the squad during the autumn left without getting on the pitch either.
Good teams evolve before your eyes without followers really being aware. A keen student of Scottish sporting history, Cotter will know that the 1990 Grand Slam team used only 16 players.
Just as every top tennis player needs a big weapon (ie serve, return etc) so Scotland have their killer touch in the line-out. If the going gets tough, play up the touchline and leave the rest to the jumpers and a rejuvenated Ross Ford.
Doug Sanders missed a three-foot putt to win the 1970 Open Golf Championship, never captured a Major, and decades later remarked he could “sometimes go five minutes without thinking about it.” Greig Laidlaw’s miss with 11 minutes to go against New Zealand would have put Scotland ahead in seeking a first win in 30 meetings, but his was far from cut and dried. Wales got their noses in front at almost the same stage on Saturday and unlocked an All Black try avalanche. Laidlaw remains one of our all-time best and will continue to prove it after what was probably a technical glitch versus the Kiwis.
What do the following players have in common? Tonks, Murchie, Scott, Horne, Fife, Jackson, Hart, Allan, Low, McArthur, Gilchrist, Swinson, Barclay, K Brown, Fusaro, De Luca, Cuthbert, Jones, Evans, Kellock, Wilson, Holmes, Bryce, Welsh. They have all been capped by Scotland recently but DIDN’T figure in the Autumn Tests. Add in so-called project signings such as Willem Nel, Cornell Du Preez and Josh Strauss, not to mention qualified imports including Allan Dell, and you get the picture.
Both Edinburgh and Glasgow will re-enter European competitions unbeaten at the top of their groups. When the going gets tough they can draw from a well of expectation. Did anybody notice a hint of swagger about the Scots in turning down early kicks at goal against Tonga in search of tries?