Monday, February 06, 2006

Scots Victory Tae Make Us Think Again

Yesterday at Murayfield you had a pretty nice summation of what the Six Nations Championship is all about. Last Friday I wrote about how the Six Nations is one of those sporting events that transcends the normal constituency of the sport in question, and becomes a subject of broader popular interest and debate. In other words, back page news becomes front page news.

Today Scots who would generally not pay much attention to rugby will be walking a little taller and feeling a bit better about themselves, and, like I mentioned previously, be praising the merits of Scotland's set-piece discipline and expansive running where usually they would debating outcomes of the weekend's football action. Indeed, for a relative minority sport, rugby has a strange and singular way of bolstering a traditional sense of Scottishness.

The reason for this perhaps lies in the fact that the game's stronghold is in Edinburgh, the traditional home of the wholesome, shortbread tin variety of Caledonianism, rather than in tribalist, working class Glasgow. I contend that Scotland's Grand Slam victory in 1990 over England - when David Sole led his team on a slow march around Murrayfield, thereby whipping the crowd into a ferocious frenzy of patriotic fervour - was a psychological milestone on the road to Scottish devolution in 1997, similar to the way that Ray Houghton's goal against England in 1988 is regarded as a sort of symbolic spark to Ireland's subsequent economic and social revolution.

Scotland's staggering performance yesterday confounded all expectations, even of those which predicted an improvement in their performance for this year's campaign. It was, in essence, a triumph for Frank Hadden, Scotland's new coach, but one of management as much as of coaching. Central to the astonishment at their performance was the fact that the result was achieved with pretty much the same group of players that struggled so badly under Matt Williams last year.

This underlines the success Hadden has had in creating a hitherto non-existent sense of self-confidence and tactical maturity, which was so in evidence yesterday. These new attributes meant that the Scots were able to execute their coach's plan in the white heat of battle, and provided them with the character to ride out the inevitable French storm.

When held in comparison with Ireland's puzzling lack of a sense of purpose, or even of a plan to execute at all against Italy on Saturday, it raises further pointed question marks over Eddie O'Sullivan's ability to deliver the results his squad's talents merit.

Paris on Saturday will undoubtedly need to provide satisfactory answers these riddles, and is a game which carries monumental significance for the fortunes of the Irish national side in advance of next year's World Cup.


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