Scotland’s winning race ended on Sunday when France beat the hosts 22-15 at BT Murrayfield. Here are four takeaways from the fall Nations Cup flip side.
Has flair been sacrificed at the altar of better defense?
The statistics speak for themselves. Scotland had the meanest defense in the Six Nations, conceding the fewest points (59) and tries (5) and that form was widely picked up in the Fall Nations Cup. The changes to the coaching staff following last year’s World Cup were aimed at strengthening the defense, and it worked. But does it come at a cost? The freewheeling Scotland of Gregor Townsend’s early years seems a distant memory. In successive seasons, Scotland have put 53 points ahead of Australia, 44 ahead of Argentina and scored six tries against England at Twickenham. Attempts by filibuster full-backs seem rare these days, with forwards more likely to be on the scoresheet. The absence of Finn Russell was a major factor. Aside from 31 minutes at Llanelli, the stalemate has been absent this year and its creative spark has been sorely missed.
Stuart Hogg has to stretch his legs
Aside from his last blunder against France, the Scottish captain was a shrewd player in the fall testing. His preference for corner kicks resulted in important tries at key times as the Scots used their new favorite tactic, the line-up maul. But it seems it’s been a long time since we saw Hogg run at full speed with the ball in hand. The full-back was asked the other day if he missed any practice. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “We are winning test matches and that’s what we’re here to do.” Good point, but it would be nice to see Hogg use this wonderful rhythm before the international window closes.
Duncan Weir deserves to play in Nations Cup final match
The Edinburgh clash Jaco van der Walt is eligible to participate in the final match of the Autumn Nations Cup in Scotland after fulfilling the three-year residency requirement and quarantined on his return from his native South Africa. With Russell and Adam Hastings both injured, Townsend is light on options to ten, but Duncan Weir has done a good job against Italy and France. His goalkicking in particular was exemplary, winning four out of four conversions in Florence and five out of five penalties against the French. The Worcester man has waited patiently for his recall to Scotland and it would be extremely hard to lose to van der Walt next month.
Scotland still have an outside chance to advance to the final
The loss to France leaves Scotland counting on Italy to rid themselves of the mother of all upheaval if Townsend’s side are to reach the fall Nations Cup final. The final Group B game will be at the Stade de France on Saturday night and if the Italians can beat the hosts that will open the door for Scotland to win the section. But don’t bet the house on it. Italy haven’t beaten a Six Nations team since 2015 and only beat France twice in the Six Nations era, both times in Rome, in 2011 and 2013. Their only victory on the floor français took place in Grenoble in 1997.