The “fastest rugby in the world” is a phrase that has come to be a millstone around Scotland under Gregor Townsend, and specifically so after Sunday’s loss to Japan.
THIS was the fastest rugby in the world, Japan making light of their lack of power with the sheer swiftness of the game in thought and deed.
Townsend did coin the phrase for Scotland, but it was not a broad philosophy; for one tour, maybe half a year, only.
“The description was internal, but one of the players had an online column and it came out when we were in Singapore (Townsend’s first game as head coach in 2017, against Italy),” he explained. “It was just shorthand for what every single coach wants first in attack, quick ball from the breakdown.”
Scotland have been playing a very different style for the past year, he continued, a kick-chase game designed to put the opposition under pressure, and it was a big part of their game plan in Yokohama.
Only it didn’t work that well against Japan, and was compounded by Scotland’s defensive lapses in the second quarter of the game – the same lapses that occurred against Ireland.
“We know that we have to improve there to cope with the best sides in the world,” he said. “We have shown improvement, but you can’t let your standards slip for a second at the top level.”
Do Scotland got back to quicker rugby? It was more effective in Townsend’s 18 months as coach than any of 2019 has been.
He certainly has more of an opportunity with the coming injection of pace into the side. Greig Laidlaw has been an unmatched servant to Scotland but his actual service from the base has long been laboured and not suiting a free-moving style.
Ali Price started ahead of him on occasion for that reason and George Horne’s sparkle and speed would seem more liberating for Scotland to play a bit more.
Also, does the endless kick-chase absolutely make the most of Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg? Our best backs – certainly the ones attracting the biggest contracts – had fairly mundane World Cup campaigns.
Finn showed occasional flashes but Hoggy was well marshalled in all three games he played – the personal highlight of maybe our best player ever in the 2019 World Cup was…a drop goal.
What happened to the days, during most of 2017-18, that opposition defences (even New Zealand on one occasion) had the fear of God when Hoggy came sprinting up into the line?
Hopefully a change of scene at Exeter will put a shot in the arm to the full-back’s game.
The starling scarers
Japan has something like a two per cent unemployment rate. Even though they have had some economic hardships in recent times – when the economy overloaded and crashed – it’s still very hard to see much or any evidence of deprivation that is commonly found even in the most well-to-do areas of other countries.
Things are generally pretty expensive, and taxes are historically high at the moment. Japan’s national debt is the highest of any major industrialised nation. Someone’s had to pay for all those Shinkansen.
But the work ethic is extraordinarily high in Japan. Unlike Europe, there isn’t that much of an immigrant working population, doing the jobs that native people are a little too snobby to do. Any kind of job seems to be an honourable pursuit here.
Rich Freeman, a long time English-speaking rugby journalist based in Kyoto, told me that the major department stores used to have “escalator girls” whose daily task was to bow to customers getting on the escalators. And er…that was it.
My favourite Japanese job I’d never seen anywhere else was when we were briefly staying in Hamamatsu. You don’t hear as many birds in Japan as you do at home, but the exception was the town centre in Hamamatsu, where at dusk starlings would appear in their thousands (as they do all over the world) to roost.
And when they appeared and perched in the roadside trees or on canopies above the tall buildings, out would come an army of men in hard hats and hi-vis vests carrying what looked foghorns and hammers.
These foghorns actually were airguns, firing high volume cracks into the area. The guys with the hammers would hit the trunks of trees, all in a humane attempt to get the starlings to move and stop decorating the public thoroughfares with their droppings.
Starling-scaring appears to be someone’s job. I don’t know if it’s seasonal work, or has many future prospects. But there weren’t very many young people doing it.