The annual rugby contest between Scotland and England that is the Six Nations match for the Calcutta Cup, played out yesterday at Twickenham, saw a majestic and focused English team force most of the action into the Scots half, often within its 10 yard line – and always threatening.
While Scotland were better than their spiritless debacle against Tonga back in November, they were not, as a team, remotely near where they needed to be. The disappointment was less that they lost but how they lost.
There was no sense of collective strategic purpose in what they did, although, reactively and as individuals, they tried hard enough.
Even this was not always the case with, far too often, players giving up the chase and just stopping, leaving it to a colleague to materialise somehow into the empty space ahead of the English runaway.
Players were also regularly seen running around like sheepdogs around the perimeter of a ruck, eyes everywhere, dancing this way and that, both arms held wide to catch – what exactly?
This looked totally astray – as it was.
It showed clearly how, at an individual level, players are currently willing but unfocused and unstrategic.
Anticipation and cover were also poor – with a fast English attack, changing direction and deploying accurate passing, catching them out far too often.
In the scrums, the Scots often rocked the English back in a hard immediate surge but rarely capitalised on that advantage – and were too often penalised for going in early.
Discipline was generally lacking, with silly penalties wasting all that was gained early on.
It was good to see Johnnie Beattie back in a solid performance, Sean Maitland’s debut international showed no nervousness and Stuart Hogg was often a rip-roaring delight.
Current coach, Scott Johnson, has work to do and it is work less with players than with a team.
England played great rugby yesterday – fast, persistent, imaginative, responsive, opportunist. How often did we see them storm down the pitch, sweeping the scattered Scots before them. And they never stopped trying, even when well ahead. They scored a late last try and conversion. This is skill and spirit.
While football pulls in more regular headlines, it is arguable that the heart of Scotland is in its rugby sides, its visceral flag carrier.
The game, with its blend of strength, courage, direct physical combat, speed and grace sums up everything glorious about masculinity in sport and about the Scottish character of legend.
This was, of course, deliberately reinforced in the setting to Highland Cathedral of the Alexander Gray poem, Scotland, in the series of televised advertisement for Scottish rugby:
This is my country,
The land that begat me.
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.
And those who toil here
In the sweat of their faces
Are flesh of my flesh,
And bone of my bone.
Whatever it takes, the Scottish rugby side needs to be supported, coached and driven to where the country needs it to be.