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THE BREAKDOWN, STEVE SCOTT: The clear gap between Scotland’s teams and the Irish

Edinburgh's basic drills and discipline let them down against Munster last Friday.
Edinburgh's basic drills and discipline let them down against Munster last Friday.

In the three short weeks since Scotland signed off their 2022 international schedule with the rollicking win over Argentina, there’s been a sobering reminder of the proper benchmark.

The week after the Pumas, a Glasgow team featured a few internationals went to Dublin in the URC and was roundly routed – again – by Leinster’s B squad.

Last week Edinburgh, with most of their Scotland star names restored, hosted Munster, who some thought were in a fallow period this season. They had lost to all three fellow Irish provinces and only beat Zebre 21-7, after all.

Edinburgh even skated out to a 14-0 lead. They were 17-7 ahead with half-time looming. The score after that, however was 31-0 to Munster.

A badly skewed competition

Mike Blair’s capital side remain top of the Scottish-Italian conference despite a 4-5 win-loss record. Glasgow won their first away match since April (and only second in all comps since February) when they defeated Zebre in Parma on Saturday.

But the URC is a skewed competition even without the conference system. The three main Irish provinces, and the Stormers and Bulls (usually at home, but not always) are way ahead of the rest.

The Scots teams beat up on everyone else on their home turf and occasionally away. But they’ve again become as much cannon-fodder for Leinster, Munster and Ulster as Zebre or the Dragons are for them.

You really can’t take much from Glasgow winning in Parma (other than George Horne clearly should have got more of a chance for Scotland in the autumn).

But there’s plenty to be concerned about from Edinburgh’s Munster collapse. The capital side looked a soft touch. Just a bit of bullying from Peter O’Mahony and his boys, and they capitulated.

There’s a narrative from some Irish observers that Scots teams struggle with physicality of Irish teams, at both international and URC level.

I’ve never quite bought that, as Scotland have competed decently with England and France over the same time, and they’re at least as physical as Ireland.

Focus, resilience, discipline

But there is clearly a massive difference. I think it’s mostly focus, resilience and discipline.

Not just giving away penalties, although the Scots do that a lot and Irish teams feast on it. It’s also the discipline to run your basic drills to the letter, as mistake-free as possible.

For example, Munster probably wouldn’t have scored either of their tries in the first half on Friday night had Edinburgh secured first a routine restart, and later a simple defensive lineout.

But when neither were, you knew that Munster’s superior drills in the red zone area would mean they’d harvest points.

As we’ve noted before here, the Ireland international team in 2021 scored more than 80 per cent of their tries from setpieces in the opposition 22. They got a bit more expansive in 2022, but not to the detriment of their basic style.

This clinical focus is also drilled into their provincial teams. Pressure forces mistakes or penalties, a kick to the corner, and execute. Leinster and Ulster do it as well, possibly better, than Munster do.

Until Scottish teams can match these levels of focus and discipline, they’re going to continue to struggle against all Irish teams. And Scotland’s future progress goes through Ireland at all levels in 2023.

Goodbye for now, Eddie and Wayne

Well, my optimism for Eddie Jones and Wayne Pivac’s prospects last week was badly misplaced. Both were gone within 24 hours of each other at the beginning of the week.

We’ll miss Eddie. He was always good value and hopefully we’ll hear his trademark barbs again when he comes back with US Rugby.

But once they start booing at the end of games at Twickenham, there’s no way back even if you’re the most successful head coach in English international history (in win-loss record, at least).

I don’t buy the argument that Eddie had a peerless masterplan for the World Cup and was keeping England’s powder dry.

The World Cup is hugely (over)important in rugby these days. But as Gregor Townsend is fond of saying whenever us Scots scribes bring it up, the other tournaments are important too.

One win in four during the autumn and just five in 2022 won’t cut it for England. If Eddie was keeping more effective strategy up his sleeve, he was a fool for not using at least some of it.

Leicester’s Steve Borthwick, formerly Eddie’s forwards coach, is regarded as a shoo-in. I suppose we can expect a ‘new coach bounce’ in the opening game of the Six Nations. Which is against Scotland, in case you’ve forgotten.

Wayne was always doomed because he wasn’t Warren

Meanwhile, once the WRU had scraped together enough pennies and Warren Gatland declared interest in returning (on a four-year contract? really?) there was no hope for Pivac.

You could argue that there was really no hope for him in the first place because he wasn’t Warren.

Certainly, Gatland has an exceptional track record of getting players to play way above themselves in his rigidly structured system for Wales. That’s going to be crucial with this current crop of players and the paucity of their regions’ recent performances.

But he’s always found a way in the past. And of course, he’s never lost to Scotland.

The one defeat Wales had during Gat’s first term was in 2017, when he had ceded control to Rob Howley due to a Lions sabbatical.

It also means the everyone’s favourite coach-du-jour, Scott Robertson of the Crusaders, somehow remains without the international gig he aspires to.

He might get his preferred post if things go pear-shaped for New Zealand’s Ian Foster at the World Cup. But if not, maybe there’ll be a vacancy much, much further north…