Scottish sports comment: It was a good deal more productive than it was pretty, but Scotland’s unlikely 12-8 win over Ireland at Murrayfield was nevertheless welcome.
Having come into the tournament on the back of three straight autumn defeats and the loss of their head coach, Scotland are now riding on a genuine wave of optimism about what can be achieved.
Scott Johnson, who replaced Andy Robinson as interim boss of the international side, will not be getting carried away, but one only has to look at the kind of gems he offers the media to glimpse the inspiration felt by the players. “We are still in the tournament — we are in it up to our ears,” he quipped immediately after the Ireland match.
Still there was no disguising his fretting down on the touchline at the end of Sunday’s game which saw the kitchen sink thrown at the Scots goal-line.
It was to no avail. Ireland were defeated in Edinburgh for the first time since 2001 despite the fact that the men in green had almost 80 per cent of the territorial advantage and well into the second half looked firmly in control of the Test.
Still, for the Scots and for Johnson a win’s a win no matter how it’s achieved. That each of their dozen points came from the boot of Greig Laidlaw will be of little concern.
It should not be overlooked that in the two previous games, the win over Italy and defeat to England, this side have scored no less than six tries. Winning has been the issue and they have come pretty far with back-to-back home victories.
That distance can be measured by the emergence of serious talk suggesting the Scots now have a pretty fair tilt at their first ever Six Nations title, when nothing more glittering than the wooden spoon was expected. England will surely still canter to a Grand Slam, but Johnson’s men have the chance to further build on what, even now, will go down as a successful championship.
Against Wales, and then France away, if they again concentrate on doing the basics properly they have more than a decent chance of recording a likely second-place finish.
What all this means for the medium term is stunningly simple — Johnson has already done enough to be offered a deal which would take him beyond the summer tour of South Africa, after halting the one step forward and one back shuffle of the Robinson era.
That the big Australian coach is making a difference is self-evident.
The Scots hero, Laidlaw himself, said: “I think he does deserve the job. A lot of credit should go to him and the coaching team.”
You can bet your bottom dollar there’s plenty of others in dark blue who feel the same at clubs across the land as well as in the Murrayfield dressing room.
The SRU may not have to make room for the silver of the Six Nations trophy just yet, but they should realise they have struck gold with the new man at the helm.
What are we to make of Rangers issuing an apology about the conduct of some supporters while their match with Berwick at the weekend was still going on?
Football watchers, even in Scotland, have never heard of a club moving so quickly. We should be pleased that Rangers, at an official level, take this matter seriously, but it also highlights the fact that we have been round the block over abusive singing far too often with the Ibrox legions.
For much of the last decade very senior figures, such as Walter Smith, Ally McCoist and David Murray, made it plain that their club was facing severe sanction at home and abroad if supporters carried on with what is often rather blandly labelled “sectarian chanting.”
Let us be clear, the particularly odious outbursts at Shielfield Park were “No Pope of Rome,” “The Billy Boys” — with the line “up to our knees in Fenian blood,” “Fuck the Pope,” and a good many references to the paramilitary UVF.
What can be done? Well, not much will change unless the Light Blues support en masse truly wishes a shift in cultural attitudes.
With that in mind it is worth remembering that the match took place over the border in England and some of the more hardcore fans may have thought they were free to re-visit the nastier parts of their repertoire.
Wrong. Northumbria Police say legislation covering visiting fans from Scotland is enactable on their patch. Not only that, but the international broadcaster ESPN is preparing to contact the police.
McCoist himself, who has advocated giving fans a list of acceptable songs, muddied the waters after the match by saying “our supporters have been nothing short of sensational home and away this season. If they were a little bit out of order today, I apologise.”
Frankly there is too much diplomacy and not enough steel in his words. Praise dilutes the message, even though it is absolutely true that many fans were both ashamed and angry at what others had sung in their name.
Those who wish to move on have much work to do on behalf of their club. Should they fail there will be more days like Berwick and still more recriminations from both the SFA and Uefa which will further weaken Rangers.
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