Rugby

Scottish Legend Fears A "Humiliation" Against Ireland This Weekend

Scottish Legend Fears A "Humiliation" Against Ireland This Weekend

In the 1970s, when Ally MacLeod was thumping his chest about Scotland winning the World Cup  Hugh McIlvanney wrote that football and sport will never reward the amount of emotional energy the Scottish people pour into them. Subsequent decades have proved the great man to be prescient, to such an extent that Scotland now suffers from exceptionally low self-esteem when it comes to international sport. (Scotland's official song for the 1998 World Cup, for example, was an exceptionally plaintive number by Del Amitri entitled Don't Come Home Too Soon). 

Erstwhile Scottish captain Gavin Hastings was in Dublin today, and his opening remarks to Balls shows that the whips and scorns of the past still throb, in spite of that remarkable, blood-rushing win against England.

I'm afraid of humiliation. There would be no disgrace in losing to Ireland but I don't want to be humiliated. I think Scotland were humiliated in Cardiff and we've responded very well to that.

When we delve further into those worries, Hastings leans on the England match to talk himself out of it. But as his optimism and positive feeling begin to emerge, Hastings consciously tempers it by lavishing praise on Ireland.

We’ll go in feeling confident, and we have nothing to lose. Everyone here will expect Ireland to win, but from the Scottish perspective, the only people whose belief matters is the Scottish squad.

But I come back, it would be no disgrace in losing to Ireland. What scares me is being humiliated.

When Leinster came to play Glasgow in Scotstoun in the Champions Cup, we were rumbled. I was at the game; it was hard to take.

The old cliché of coaches and former players kicking every ball when watching on the stand does not do Hastings justice - this is a kind of week-long, deeper and more anguished immersion.

It's as if he is constraining his own enthusiasm and exuberance in the hope that it this dazzling Scottish rugby squad will do likewise, as it can occasionally spiral out of control and result in the kind of massacre that left the players writhing about Cardiff, hurt and humiliated.

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The differing mindsets of respective sets of supporters ahead of this game can perhaps be distilled into the approaches of either out-halves. Ireland can rely on Johnny Sexton to run the game and execute the gameplan - even if his kicking off the tee is errant. In Sexton, says Hastings, Ireland have a talisman who will perform regardless of context or arena. "Johnny Sexton was outstanding when Leinster came to Glasgow in that Champions Cup game, the Glasgow crowd were getting on to him and he could have played from then until now and he wouldn't be rattled by it. He was magnificent, I genuinely believe that Sexton is a true professional".

Finn Russell, by contrast, has a deeper well of magic to sprinkle across the tournament, but is less consistent in doing so. He is capable of puncturing the Irish defence, but can occasionally hurt his own defence, too. A maverick, in Hastings' opinion.

He's a maverick. He doesn't give a toss about what people are saying about him. I mean he was magnificent against England, absolutely magnificent. I still maintain he's one of the best passers of a rugby ball, Sexton's pretty good but I think Finn Russell is maybe even better than him.

It was unbelievable [his pass to Huw Jones against England], Jonathan Joseph went up and the ball was way over his hands, I was doing radio commentary when that pass was given and my heart was in my mouth. You can't knock him for that, Jones had acres of space to run into.

There's no way that Joe Schmidt will allow the Irish to defend as narrowly as England did, there was so much space out wide and Finn Russell capitalised on that.

Listen, Sexton's kicking out of hand is magnificent, I remember Ronan O'Gara who used to just put balls in the corner, you know Sexton's come on in leaps and bounds and he's become almost as good as Ronan O'Gara was in terms scoof his kicking out of hands.

Finn Russell is a maverick, he's going to try things, that's the nature of the beast, I don't think he'll change, I really don't think he'll change.

That's what we're here to do. We'd rather cause you an uncomfortable afternoon than not quite honestly. I just think that's the nature of the beast, that's what you get with Finn Russell.

For every amazing thing he does, he might do something not so amazing. He had a couple of average games and then he had a superb game against England.

Why not have another superb game against Ireland? Because if he does we'll be a handful and if he doesn't, well we probably won't be.

I don't think we'll beat Ireland by playing possession and territory, we have to play the same way or a similar way to the England game. Just have a bit of chaos going on.

Scotland vs. Ireland games, they used to be chaotic! They were mad games, Ireland have brought structure and purpose to the game under Schmidt.

Hastings says he is relieved by the probable absence of Devin Toner from the Irish XV, having been impressed by the second-row against Glasgow in the Champions Cup.

Hastings attributes Ireland's eminence over Scotland to the structures in Ireland - four professional teams employing and protecting the top-level international players.

"Scotland have been not very good in a lot of the professionals since the Six Nations and we've suffered from a lack of real quality players. Ireland have just gone from strength to strength and I think Ireland will continue to grow from strength to strength. I think Ireland will win a World Cup in my lifetime, I genuinely believe that because I think the model that Ireland have and the fact that they've got no competition professionally.

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I know a wee bit about Irish sport - the Gaelic Games and the way these young kids get dragged out from a very early age and they're not in front of Playstations and Xbox and whatever else.I think professional rugby suits this country and it suits the mentality of Irish people, it really does. I think they've become very competent when you've a coach like Joe Schmidt. It's quite a compelling togetherness."

He cites Scotland's two professional clubs and the fact that some of their stars must go abroad to play as one of the factors holding them back. That said, in praising Ireland's system, he describes the exclusion of Simon Zebo as a result of his incipient move to France as "bonkers".

Away from this weekend's game, Hastings refused to comment on Eddie Jones' comments in the wake of his being badgered and abused by Scottish fans at a train station. Jones said that pre-game comments by Hastings, which the Scottish legend said that his country would enjoy "rubbing Jones' nose in it" were Scotland to win, helped to incite the behaviour at the train station. "Look, I’m not going to get involved. I’ve not commented on it. What I will say is that Eddie Jones conducted himself very well after the defeat on Saturday, and the way he had to, unfortunately, deal with that behaviour. That’s all I want to say".

He ends the interview by saying he hoped he achieved in succeeding the Irish journalists before him regarding Scotland's challenge this weekend. It seems uniquely Scottish that part of his plan to do so was to talk Scotland down.

Gavin Hastings was speaking to Balls as he teamed up with Guinness to celebrate the camaraderie of rugby fans. Dublin pub Paddy Cullens will become the "Flower of Scotland" to welcome Scottish fans this Saturday. 

See Also: Is Rugby Really The 'People's Game?' Here's What The Numbers Say

See Also: 10 Irish-born Sportsmen Who Have Represented Other Countries

Gavin Cooney
Article written by
Changed the spelling of his name upon pressure from Michael Owen.

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