Scotland’s defence and discipline will be the cornerstones of their Six Nations championship challenge going forward, believes Jamie Ritchie.
The Scots have never won their first two games of the championship since it became Six Nations in 2000, but have that chance after the epic 11-6 win over England at the weekend. There is a hardened backbone for the team going into the visit of Wales to Murrayfield this weekend.
‘Defence is the thing that makes a difference’
“There is a lot of belief now, particularly belief in our defence,” said the former Madras player. “Our defence has been a huge part of our game since the start of the Six Nations last year.
“I think it’s coming to head now and I think it’s something that’s really good for us. When you are playing away from home, defence is the thing that makes the difference and it’s something that we’ve been doing really well recently.”
Discipline was certainly tightened in Saturday’s historic victory over England at Twickenham, with just six penalties conceded – keeping it below double figures is usually the target in international rugby.
‘You just have to adapt’
Scotland’s previous game in Dublin in November saw them give up 15 penalties – a focus for the England game and going forward, said Ritchie.
“We spoke going into last week about our discipline, not just in terms of not just giving away penalties, but within ourselves,” he said.
“The team who gives away the least amount of penalties mostly come away with the result. For us it is a huge part of the game and something we are trying to minimise the best we can.
“Airing on the side of caution is good but when it changes your game, I don’t think it is the right thing to do. You just have to adapt to the refs.”
Wales are ‘better, more physical’
Scotland beat Wales in Llanelli in October in their last Six Nations meeting delayed from March. Having watched them beat Ireland at the weekend Ritchie spotted a lot of differences in justg a few short months.
“They looked a better team than they looked in the autumn,” he said. “They are certainly more physical. They’re developing their game and trying to play a bit more, a bit more direct than we have seen them.
“Wales will still be hurting from that game in the autumn. We know the threat they can pose and we hope that we are ready for the game come Saturday.”
The return of Josh Navidi, a player Ritchie has sparred with many times for club and country, makes the Welsh stronger, said the Scot, despite the injuries they suffered at the weekend.
“Navidi had his first game back in a while so it is good to see him back and he was playing well. They have a great back row with guys like (Justin) Tipuric and (Taulupe) Falateau, world class players.
“It is an advantage for us in that we get another day’s training and another day’s preparation. We got to watch their game live on Sunday to get a feel for how they were playing, to see what Ireland did that was working.”
Whatever the opposition, Scotland now have the confidence to impose their game, as they did so effectively at Twickenham.
“With England we concentrated on them earlier in the week and how we could impose ourselves on their game,” he said. “It will be the same sort of thing for Wales.
“We will do our preparation round what we expect from them, then how we can impose ourselves.”
But they are conscious that after the weekend, there’s still a long way to go and lots else to do.
‘The first game is gone now’
“We’re all aware we were on such a high on Saturday,” said Ritchie. “But we also made it clear we had an opportunity to go again and hopefully do something even more special.
“We know this is just the start and now we have an opportunity against Wales. The first game is gone now and we enjoyed it at the time, now it’s on to the next one.
“That’s our mindset, we’ll need to focus on Wales and do the best we can.”