Vern Cotter’s message just aint getting through

A remarkable statistic emerged after the Italian game on Saturday – this was Scotland’s fifth home defeat in a row in the 6 Nations Championship.

When did this last happen? Well it hasn’t happened in the 6 Nations before. In fact it last happened back in 1952, 63 years ago. Not something to be proud of.

Up until Saturday, there was so much positivity about. We should have beaten New Zealand, France and Wales, and certainly should have scalped Italy, especially after having a 10-0 lead in the first seven minutes. Everyone is focusing on the penalty count, which once again was too high.

When asked at the press conference why his team apparently continue to ignore his calls to reduce the penalty count, Scotland coach Vern Cotter said “my message is obviously not getting through”.

Journalists have jumped on that comment. Why is the message not getting through? Captain Greig Laidlaw was not impressed by the high count, especially as he had been saying all week how important it was. Interpreting a referee’s way of applying the law can be difficult at the best of times, and the inconsistency of refs doesn’t help. We can make allowances for strange refereeing decisions, but it’s the schoolboy errors which must be avoided – the silly penalties and the moments of madness.

In most sports, Scottish teams often struggle against the minnows then raise our game for the top-ranked teams. It’s hard to put a finger on why, but our long-suffering fans must be fed up of it.

If we had beaten Italy, I guess things would have been different. The fact that we lost at home to them playing like we did was the trigger for most journalists to go to town on the squad. Many are demanding change (again) and solutions to a problem which probably, for Scotland, is not solvable.

We are a tiny nation punching above our weight, very poorly-funded. We have two pro teams and many of our homegrown talent have to go to other countries to play at a higher level. By rights we should be way down the rankings, but we’re in the top 10 of world rugby and have made the knockout stages of the World Cup every time, apart from 2011. We have been starved of success for a long time now – almost a generation of people don’t know what it’s like to win a Grand Slam or Triple Crown, and it’s been 16 years since we scraped the last 5 Nations Championship.

With that sort of track record, the fans survive on scraps, but we are a demanding nation who, at the very least, want our players to wear the jersey with pride and put on a decent performance every game. We fell woefully short against the Italians. We have England at Twickenham next, then Ireland at home – the last team we beat at home in the 6 Nations back in 2013, incidentally. Cotter (who must start looking at players who are not getting his message and weed them out) is under pressure to deliver in these fixtures against the top two sides in the Championship, but the least we can expect from a Scotland squad is a decent performance. We need to step up several gears to achieve it.

Let’s end on something positive. Hawick’s Stuart Hogg continues to impress and is the leading player from all in the 6 Nations, with his clean breaks and carries stats.