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THE BREAKDOWN: The reaction to this Six Nations has been wildly disproportionate, but some things needed sorted behind Scotland’s closed doors

Captain Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell have been at the centre of the storm over Scotland's Six Nations.
Captain Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell have been at the centre of the storm over Scotland's Six Nations.

Hopes being dashed is a painful business. Perhaps that’s why we’re hearing wailing and gnashing of teeth after the Six Nations.

But this time there was real hope, was there not?

Kind of. You didn’t have to be a seer in the autumn to feel other teams had moved on more. It was always possible that rather than being the dawn to a new age, 2021 (just one more win, remember) was going to turn out to be a missed opportunity.

The reaction has been disproportionate, hysterical in some circles calling for the whole shebang to be hauled down and rebuilt. 18 months out from a World Cup.

Gregor Townsend’s reign, for all that it’s the most successful by any Scottish coach in the pro era, has really been just as prone to the advance-regression model as any.

I’m not sure he’s still the right man to take the team forward, but in truth there’s nobody else. Mike Blair? Too soon. Scott Robertson? He has far bigger ambitions than Scotland.

Yes, there’s an obvious issue behind percolating behind closed doors. Only what I thought was most troubling was…

The obvious disconnect

There didn’t seem to be a plan. Townsend would never be as lax to send a team out guessing, but where was the cohesive strategy?

Was it too complex? Did the players reject it?

How can you tell? Well, in each of Scotland’s three defeats this spring they actually went out of their way to feed their opponents’ primary strengths.

Against Wales it was aimless kicking lapped up by Liam Williams and Dan Biggar, two of the best at kick strategy and execution there is.

Against France it was so much turnover ball Les Bleus almost gorged themselves. For all France are more structured than ever before, they still thrive off counterattack in broken play.

Finally, Ireland. The Irish literally score 85% of their tries from set piece ball in the opposition 22, usually getting there via midfield penalties. Scotland gave up 15 penalties In Dublin, actually their worst of a dire season of indiscipline.

Tactics going as awry as this? On-field discipline remaining a huge issue even after we’re told it’s being addressed as far back as November?

Sure drinks outings are a symptom of something deeper. But I don’t think it’s ‘culture’. It’s another example of a clear and obvious disconnect between coaches and players.

Isn’t the SRU always to blame?

Partly. Really, I’ve read a lot that Scottish Rugby should have a comprehensive review of this Six Nations, maybe their entire operations. Seriously…

1) It really wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t what we’d hoped for, but we’ve all seen worse. The real time to review playing operations was after the last World Cup. I’d be up for launching one after the World Cup next year, but now?

2) There’s really no-one suitable to chair it. And Murrayfield won’t allow a properly independent chair anyway.

3) Do you know how long it usually takes the SRU to do these reviews? It might be ready by August 2025, if we’re lucky.

4) It would be altogether cheaper and easier just to sack the coach. But you can blithely wave goodbye to any faint prospect of recovery by the World Cup if you do that.

5) There is one area that needs review, urgently, and it’s youth rugby and what’s happened coming out of the pandemic. This manifested itself painfully in the plight of the Under 20s this spring.

Hogg’s time as captain may be done. It’s maybe for the best.

His bad-tempered captain’s press conference after the Ireland game may have been the last: ‘I won’t miss that’, he said on exiting. But being rude to journalists is certainly not a reason to sack him.

He’s done a lot of good in the job, and has certainly embraced it wholeheartedly. I suspect that once things have calmed down he might reconsider. But might it not be better for him and the team to have someone else?

My one caveat for him being captain – it was properly his turn – was that it would ramp up his desire to try to do too much. The missed chance in Dublin was a prime example of that.

I’d put him back to being a senior footsoldier. Jamie Ritchie is the perfect candidate to lead the team now, if he’s up for it.

Finn Russell and the ‘Edinburgh Six’

Does Finn Russell need a boot up the backside? Probably. Only booting him up the backside is the exact way to make things worse.

Saturday in Dublin proved that Scotland have little option but Russell at stand-off.

I suggested last week that the Blair Switch Project might be having a shot across his bows, and I’m actually more convinced of that now. The undue, almost breakneck haste to promote Kinghorn, at 25 after playing seven years wholly in the back three, speaks volumes.

Truth is, no-one plays so close to the defensive line more threateningly than Russell. If Scotland are to have any kind of attacking edge, you need him. Maybe Adam Hastings in a pinch.

Russell clearly wasn’t properly conditioned for this championship. Whether that’s the result of a residual injury, fatigue from the Lions tour or that he’s a lazy b*****r, it needs to be sorted. I’m sure Racing are going to address it, if they intend to keep paying him €1 million a year.

Whatever happens, Scotland aren’t doing anything competitively without Russell, same with Hogg. They are not faultless on or off the field, but with Darcy and Duhan, they’re the best we have in the backs.

Does that mean we treat them differently? This will stick in the craws of those who plainly can’t stand either or both of them, but in reality the answer is probably yes.

It doesn’t mean you give the star names absolute carte blanche. But the ultra-sergeant-major approach, alienating our best players by not treating them like adults, is just going to splinter the squad even further.

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