Six Nations 2016: Scotland cannot fail in Italy
|Six Nations: Italy v Scotland|
|Date: Saturday, 27 February Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome Kick-off: 14:25 GMT|
|Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, Radio 5 live sports extra & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.|
It's safe to say that if you presented the names of the Scotland players from the infamous era of the early 1950s, not too many of the current team would have heard of them.
We're talking about the boys of February 1951 - February 1955, a band of men who broke all records and lost 15 games in a row in what was then the Five Nations championship.
There were nuances, of course. Some narrow losses. A missed kick here and a dodgy call there. A try-scoring opportunity spurned. A lineout that went badly wrong.
Rugby has changed profoundly but, 60 years on, don't those gripes sound a little familiar?
Jock King was a hooker in the midst of that run, his international record reading played four, lost four. Jack Hegarty was a back-row - played six and lost six. Donald Cameron was a centre with the same record.
Hamish Dawson, a prop, played in seven of the 15 defeats. Doug Elliot and Peter Kininmonth, back-row forwards, played in nine. Kininmonth was captain for five of them, before the mantle passed to another poor soul whose luck was no better.
We mention them now because their ghosts are beginning to hover above their successors' heads six decades later.
|This weekend's live TV and radio coverage|
|Six Nations coverage on the BBC|
|Fri, 26 Feb (20:05 GMT)||Wales v France||BBC One & Radio 5 live|
|Sat, 27 Feb (14:25 GMT)||Italy v Scotland||ITV & 5 live sports extra|
|Sat, 27 Feb (16:50 GMT)||England v Ireland||ITV & Radio 5 live|
'There can be no excuses'
Greig Laidlaw's team are beginning to close in on them in the annals of the damned. This Scotland team have now left behind the pre- and post-war team of 1939-1947 who lost seven on the bounce.
Not that they're ever likely to forget, but Laidlaw's men are on nine-in-a-row, the second worst run in the championship in Scotland's 145-year history.
They can bring it to an end with victory in Rome this weekend, of course. They're good enough and they're favourites to do it.
How they must crave the win, not just to build a path to the future, but to obliterate all these reminders of the past.
Nine straight losses. Looked at coldly, it's a number to make you wince. Even when you put it in context, it still doesn't get a whole lot better, but it needs to be done.
Scotland lost six of those nine games by seven points or less. They lost eight of them against teams that few thought they would beat. The only game they lost that they were expected to win was Italy, at Murrayfield, last season.
That's where we're at. We beat them up for losing to teams that we expect to lose to. It's a crazy kind of logic borne out of frustration and angst.
Rome needs to be different. There can be no excuses, no nuances. Italy are not a better team than Scotland.
That argument holds water against all the other Six Nations sides but not against Italy. The reverse is true on current evidence.
Man for man, you'd select a heap more Scots than you would Italians in a composite XV. This is an eminently beatable side that must be put away or else, truly, the ground will open and devour Vern Cotter and his players.
The nine defeats have taught Scotland more lessons than a high school kid could hear in a year. They learn and then unlearn. They heed and then forget. They move up only to move back.
The moral of the nine losses...
Scotland 17-19 France - When your opponents' lineout is in complete disarray - France lost eight of their 14 throws - you take advantage. When you're ahead with 90 seconds left, you see it out. You don't lose your head under pressure, give away a penalty and get beaten in a game you ought to have won.
Wales 51-3 Scotland - You don't pick up needless yellow cards. Or in this case, an early red card that ended any chance of a victory.
France 15-8 Scotland - You take your points, part I. If you miss a straightforward drop-goal, as Finn Russell did, you could suffer. If you miss a makeable conversion, as Laidlaw did, you pile the pressure on yourself. When you pick up another yellow card, for Johnnie Beattie, you invite trouble. When you don't score in the entire second half, you don't deserve to win.
Scotland 23-26 Wales - You take your points, part II. You make your possession pay. So many visits to the Welsh 22 and not enough to show for it. You keep the scoreboard ticking. You plant the seed of doubt.
Scotland 19-22 Italy - When you're winning with 10 minutes to go, you don't lose your mind, as Scotland did. They mentally imploded all over the park. They conceded penalty after penalty. Botched a lineout. Missed a critical kick to touch. Picked up two yellow cards. And got suckered, again, by Italy's lineout maul. The lack of leadership in these moments was gobsmacking.
England 25-13 Scotland - You take your points, part III. Scotland didn't score in the second half, again.
Scotland 10-40 Ireland - You take your points, part IV. No points in the second half once more. Not enough aggression either. Maybe it still wouldn't have been enough against an Irish team on a points-scoring mission, but Scotland lost the physical battle resoundingly and almost embarrassingly.
Scotland 9-15 England - You take your points, part V. Laidlaw missed a kickable penalty. Russell missed a makeable drop-goal. Scotland scored three points in the second half. Had Russell made a key pass to Stuart Hogg, the full-back might have gone the length of the field to score. We've all seen this movie before.
Wales 27-23 Scotland - You don't cough up four lineouts. You don't fail to execute another gorgeous overlap for the second week in a row - John Barclay missing Hogg. You hope the referee doesn't get it wrong in awarding your opponent a try that should never have been, but it happens. It seems to happen to Scotland a lot.
A new beginning?
If there's a refereeing blunder in Rome, it can't mean the difference between victory and defeat for Scotland. They need to be better than that.
They know more than any of us will ever know about the myriad ways they have lost these nine games because they've lived them, studied them, been tormented by them.
Rome has to be the end of the self-inflicted damage and the beginning of something different.
From those nine losses you could cut together 80 minutes of action that would make Scotland look like Wales in their Golden Era. There is talent, but is there composure, is there manic aggression combined with detached cool, is there ruthlessness or just another breakdown under pressure, is there a win or another failure?
This team doesn't need to learn any more lessons. They've heard them all. They just need to win a game of rugby.