Wales play Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday and go there as firm underdogs for the first time in years. The Scots are doing things differently to Wales, says Harri Morgan – showing both patience and pragmatism missing within the WRU.
In the wake of Scotland’s first victory at Twickenham since 1983, Gregor Townsend’s stock has shot up ‘Gamestop’ style.
The head coach has been lauded for masterminding the hybrid game plan, which struck a perfect chord between risk and reward.
Pre-match, there was much hype about the contest between Cameron Redpath and his former England Under 20’s team mate, Ollie Lawrence. In the aftermath this was used to exemplify the disparity in strategic intent between the respective boss men.
The Townsend narrative could have been entirely different, though.
To take a short term view. Had, Johnny Hill not infringed by creating an impenetrable seal over his fellow lock, Maro Itoje, following the latter’s collection of his own charge down, which put England within metres of the Scottish line, then England could have conceivably gone a try ahead in the opening minutes.
England’s current strategy is not art – it is science.
Eddie Jones’s game plan, or statistical model, is designed to shift the probability of victory in their favour, no matter what variables it comes up against.
This is achieved, not by releasing their extreme talent and trusting them to make situation based decisions. Rather it is a risk averse, pre-ordained process characterised by accuracy, pressure, enforced error and capitalisation.
A try in the opening moments, would have allowed Owen Farrell’s side to crush Scotland with the heaviest rock in the pile – the scoreboard.
They didn’t score, and to a degree what value is derived from hypothesising on the counterfactual, other than to demonstrate the finite margin between success and failure?
The Scots are done with the ‘good performance in defeat’ thing.
Zoom out on Townsend’s performance chart as head coach of Scotland, and it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude his presence in the coaching box on Saturday to be an achievement in itself.
If a test of reasoning required the layman to determine Townsend’s employment status post Rugby World Cup 2019, he would be rightly aggrieved when told the answer was not ‘B) Unemployed’.
After all, the plight of Gareth Jenkins in 2007 and Stuart Lancaster in 2015 provides a reference point.
I’m not sure even Warren Gatland the great would have survived a pool stage exit at the hands of Japan.
Public Outrage. Position untenable.
Yet, on the Venn diagram of Welsh Rugby opinion there is significant overlap between ‘Superb Scotland’ and ‘Pivac Out!’.
If Scotland can back up their opening round performance, they should reasonably expect to defeat both Wales and Ireland at Murrayfield, to claim the triple crown.
They may not go the whole hogg, with a win in Paris likely to a be ‘du pont’ too far. Apologies.
What an outcome that would be, not only for a nation who are yet accumulate any Six Nations silver, but also for the administrators who showed patience, and trust, in their coach to learn lessons from defeat.
Pressing eject, and employing a Kiwi, would have been a far easier option.
Scotland also have a unique approach to freedom of labour compared to the other home nations.
Redpath the younger was grinning from ear to ear when interviewed by Martin Bayfield after his Test debut.
Of course he was.
In 80 minutes he had vindicated a decision that would have cost him plenty of kip.
He spoke about how much he was enjoying his rugby, not only in the Scottish bubble, but also with his club side, Bath.
He is one of six of the starting XV to earn their club cash outside of Scotland.
Which is a bad thing, right?
Sure, the Scottish club game would be stronger if all their internationals operated out of Edinburgh or Glasgow, but what about the upside for the international set-up of the laissez-faire approach?
If Redpath, who has lived most of his life south of Gretna Green, had been told opting for the land of his father would require a transfer to the Edinburgh or Glasgow branch then he might have gone the way of Uncle Eddie.
The victorious captain and vice-captain at Twickenham, are both current Premiership winners and European champions with Exeter Chiefs.
It’s a club that has created a reputation as serial winners with a culture where the employees love going to work.
Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray are both playing their best rugby since moving to Devon, and whilst correlation does not always equal causation there is a powerful argument that when they link up with the national squad they do so with form, winning experience and a buzz for the game at levels beyond those had they remained Warriors of Glasgow.
Contrast this to the Welsh approach. Tomas Francis has been forced to give up all that is good about playing for Rob Baxter’s side in order to continue his international career, by making the switch to the Ospreys.
The easy assumption is that such a transfer is a net positive for Welsh rugby.
But is this a good move for the individual? Not just from a rugby perspective – but holistically?
If the answer is no, then inherently it won’t materialise to be a good move for Wales.
There is more than one way to skin the cat of professional rugby and come Saturday evening one set of blazers will be able to drink a sweet, sweet drop of vindication.