I think I’ll probably begin this piece by listing Scotland’s major sporting achievements in the period I’ve been paying attention to them. An Honour Roll, a Greatest Hits collection, perhaps, if you will, a Hall of Fame of moments. Something to be proud of, a celebration of success as we collectively bask in the reflected glow of a win over the sporting might of the USA.
/somehow, a tumbleweed drifts past, rustling softly in the stillness, even though you’re indoors.
Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
For basically the entire period I’ve been actively interested, the level of competence Scotland’s managed in pretty much every major sporting event has been dismal. There’ve been a couple of brief blips – Commonwealth Games in which we’ve been inexplicably good at swimming and curling stand out for their randomness, if nothing else – but really, Scotland are rubbish.
The last time we qualified for a major football tournament was in 1998. We are admittedly the reigning Five Nations champions, but only because that was last played in 1999.
With that history, hearing pundits pumping up Scotland as an emerging, young, fluent attacking side before their game against the USA was, well, new. It’s not as if any of those adjectives are wrong, per se. The core of the team is young and attack minded and visibly improving with every match. And it’s not as if they racked up more tries against Japan than they scored in the entirety of the previous world cup by accident (even if the final scoreline wasn’t entirely merited).
But damn, man. We’re still talking about a team that went winless in the Six Nations, that routinely probes the outer limits of probability to discover new agonies to inflict on supporters. A team that’s managed to sink below the expectations line every time there’s been any semblance of expectation.
When Scotland lost in the quarter final of the previous world cup, in a game they should have won handily, I wasn’t even annoyed. I was just satisfied that we’d made the quarter final ahead of bloody Italy.
There’s a reason I titled this series longform disappointment, is what I’m saying. Protracted, drawn out, almost indulgent suffering and pessimism is the lot of the Scotland fan. There’s no long term hope there, no promise that eventually it could be better. It might be new and shiny and promising now, but in the back of their minds, every Scotland fan kind of knows that it’ll turn out badly in the end.
So yeah, yeah, the USA were committed and physical and well organised. They defended reasonably, had decent ball retention and took their opportunity to score well enough when it came. They got in behind, recycled quickly and ran through some weak tackling.
It’s not that I dislike the USA. Their fly half has the most ludicrously sitcom-y backstory I think I’ve ever come across, and the commentator repeatedly calling him Aj (pronounced phonetically instead of A.J., Alan Junior) was one of the few bright moments of the first half.
But come on. After the media breathlessly puffing smoke up the arses of the Scottish team by pre-match, to be behind to the USA at half time just confirmed every truth held secretly in my grim, shrivelled heart.
One butchered chance in the first half was all Scotland had to show for getting beaten in the scrum, outpaced around the park, and generally outplayed. As with Japan, the USA used the ball far quicker than the Scots did, and the same deficiencies in wide defence showed themselves with a decent break by the American outside centre. The pack got comprehensively beaten by a big US side, illustrated by the try. Grant Gilchrist, whom I shall nickname the Shard (since he’s big and tall and thin and entirely made of glass) got injured again.
This was a decent “cursing loudly at the screen” on the scale of fan frustration. Lecturing individual players on basic skills came next.
“Why are you overrunning the ball Visser? He’s made a break, hold your depth and- AARRGGHH!”
“What the fuck?! Firing a bullet spin pass at his knees from five yards away, you useless bastard Hoggy!”
/further writhings, accompanied by what I will charitably describe as speaking in tongues.
Yeah, that was pretty much the first half. Getting marched back at scrums was less flashy burning anger and more grim resignation, but the end result was just the same. I stress-drank an entire pot of tea so I could do something with my hands.
The second half was better, even if it demonstrated the paucity of options Scotland has in the front row. If I had a time machine, one of the first things I would consider doing (after skipping a thousand years into the future and generally pissing about – right, one of the last things I might consider doing) would be to go back to 2013 and kidnap that year’s edition of Ryan Grant. He’s inexplicably become incredibly fragile and pliant. Perhaps after he became a Lion, the Glasgow coaching staff stopped making him eat the crusts on his bread.
That we came out in the second half and looked better speaks well to the coaching, though. There’s a game plan there, and they seem like they know what they’re doing. The ease with which we ran in a try inside a couple of minutes is pretty encouraging as well, since it shows that there are good players there.
Oh, and Ryan Wilson played well. The back row still has no balance, which partly explains the American ball retention, but that’s something I’ve pretty much resigned myself to with this squad.
But Scotland won! Again!
Albeit in a situation where they should have. The first half showed a lot of interesting things about the squad and the coaching and depth and structures and all of that.
It also demonstrated that this team is definitely going to lose a narrow heartbreaker to South Africa then get inexplicably hammered by a sub-par Samoan team and go out of the tournament at the group stages.