The antithesis to the wooden spoon
June 28, 2012
Scotland celebrate their win over Australia © Getty Images
I once found myself on a radio show with Micky "the Munch" Skinner, the former England flanker who was equally famous for his mullet as he was for his ability to knock the fillings out of an opposition with his physical approach. I made the mistake of saying something was "a moot point". The next five minutes of the live radio shop consisted of Skinner laughing out loud at my expense.
Since then I have been wary of rolling out too many "moots" but I feel one coming on after digesting the summer tests. Would Scotland rather return home with three wins (Australia, Fiji and Samoa) or would they prefer to be in Ireland's boots with three loses but knowing that they came agonisingly close to their first ever win over New Zealand during that middle Test?
On second thoughts it's a bleeding obvious point rather than a moot one. After the Six Nations whitewash the Scots needed a win like Edmund Hillary needed crampons, anything for a leg up, and they got three. They were lucky and even Andy Robinson, who spent most of the Six Nations bemoaning the bounce of the ball, agreed that much. He argued that Test match rugby was measured in inches, he should have said millimetres.
His team beat Australia with the last kick of the match, the second last kick of the game in Apia saw the Scots nose ahead of Samoa and they could easily have lost to Fiji when they saw a 27-11 lead evaporate to a two point gap. Midway through the second half of the Samoan game the right winger Paul Perez latched into a loose pass from Tim Visser and set off downfield for what seemed a certain score before the assistant referee raised his flag for Visser putting a foot in touch.
The Samoan crowd were seriously un-amused and video replays show that they had every right to be. It was the sort of luck that deserted Scotland for the past couple of years but every side needs it now and then although Robinson might not want to base his game plan around it.
The coach handed debuts to five players on tour: Visser got a brace against Fiji and got shown up a little against Samoa. The Dutchman is a brilliant finisher but he has work to do polishing the rest of his game. It will come. Flanker Rob Harley scored at the death in Apia. Tom Brown played a half against Australia on the wing although he prefers fullback and, having seen Stuart Hogg underwhelm on tour, so he should. But loosehead prop Ryan Grant at was the undoubted discovery of the trip.
Don't worry if you have never heard of him - you will. He couldn't get a game at Edinburgh for love nor money, especially when Robinson was coach. A move to Glasgow two years ago and Grant has found his feet. He was prominent in a set scrum that earned the winning penalty against Australia, won a penalty try against Fiji and had the upper hand against the giant Samoan pack. And all this was achieved without Jim Hamilton, David Denton, Kelly Brown or the young Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist.
When Gilchrist, Hamilton and Sale's Fraser McKenzie are back in the fold to challenge the incumbents Al Kellock, Richie Gray and Tom Ryder, Scotland will have more options in the second row than any other team in the UK including England...savour that truth for a while if you sport tartan pyjamas.
But most eyes were on Scotland's revamped backline which looked good against Fiji's less than clinical defence but struggled in Samoa. One senior Scottish coach (not Robinson) suggested that inside centre Matt Scott would be in the British & Irish Lions Test team before long and while 2013 might come a little early for him, this guy is worth watching. For the first time since John Leslie played back in the late 1990's, Scotland have a classic NZ "second five" at inside centre. Scott has pace, vision, distribution skills and he is a lot more physical in the heavy traffic than he looks at first glance. It's doubtful whether any other player in Scotland could have made the scorching break against Samoa that led to the first half try.
Outside him Nick De Luca finally grew into the player he has threatened to become against Fiji with two assists and an outstanding all-round performance. If he can keep his focus the best years are all ahead of him.
Finally fly-half Greig Laidlaw pulled the strings at ten and missed one kick all tour off the tee, his first attempt in Newcastle. He finished with 13 from 14 for a 92% success rate. He may not be a world class fly-half, a little too one-paced to seriously threaten a defence, but as a stand-in stand-off Laidlaw is doing the business for Scotland. Should he pursue the position as a long term goal or revert to his original and favourite number nine shirt at Edinburgh next season? I suppose that's a moot point.
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