Talking Sport … with Jim Tait

It is difficult to know where to start when analysing Scotland’s horrendous start to the Six Nations rugby tournament at the weekend.

The promise shown in the autumn internationals was completely reversed by a performance against Wales that was devoid of any tactical awareness.

No-one, save for the BBC’s supercilious Tom English, appears to have the perfect answers for what went so horribly wrong. According to English, the Six Nations is a place where physical and mental weaknesses are ruthlessly exposed, and the Scots simply lack the kind of ferociousness necessary to compete at this level.

If such a simplistic view is correct, then coach Gregor Townsend may as well either resign or withdraw his squad from the tournament now.

Thankfully the gulf is not nearly so massive as that which has been presented. Most people know there is no great difference between the Welsh and Scottish Pro 14 sides, and Llanelli Scarlets provided about two-thirds of the winning team on Saturday.

I believe there is something in the psyche whereby being favourites, which was the position against a depleted Welsh team shorn of half its best players, is something which the Scots have difficulty in dealing with. It is not the first time it has happened in this competition and unfortunately it will not be the last.

There is not a lot that can be rectified before Sunday’s home match against France regarding team selection, apart from bringing back higher-standard operators than Byron McGuigan, Chris Harris and Cornell do Preez. Surely Alex Dunbar, Sean Maitland and Ryan Wilson would offer far more in terms of basic savvy.

I think it would be harsh to remove scrum half Ali Price from the equation completely, although he obviously had a shocker against the Welsh. But the return of Greg Laidlaw would add more experience and control.

Price’s time may come again, but for a potentially tight game with the French having Laidlaw in from the start would be a better option.

Elsewhere there were no great surprises on the first week of Six Nations competition. England bulldozed their way past Italy, as was expected, while Ireland won a tight match in Paris courtesy of a late drop-goal.

Neither of the latter two really looked like championship contenders, although importantly the Irish now have the luxury of three home games to come.

It is now imperative that Scotland get the better of France this weekend, otherwise they could find themselves having to win in Rome to avoid picking up the dreaded wooden spoon.

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Congratulations to members of the Shetland senior women’s netball team, who won a nail-biting clash in Aberdeen at the weekend to reach the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.

The players showed a remarkable amount of grit, recovering from a difficult start which saw them six points behind opponents Caledonian I after the first quarter. However, they reduced the deficit to four points at half-time and just two going into the final phase. Their hard work and battling efforts paid off in the end with a 36-35 victory.

The netball girls have equalled the achievement of their Shetland hockey counterparts, who reached the last eight of the Scottish District Cup and in a few weeks will face a team from Edinburgh University with a semi-final place at stake.

The commitment shown by the hockey and netball players – versatile Bonnie Isle copper Victoria Duthie actually has a foot in both camps – is admirable. Without the help of their sponsors, taking part regularly in competitions such as these would be much more difficult.

The new £45,000 fund set up to support athletes from Scottish islands travelling to the mainland to compete, launched in Lerwick last Friday, will benefit a few elite individuals but offers nothing for teams.

Netball, hockey, football and rugby squads are now regularly taking on south opposition, and without assistance from NorthLink Ferries the cost of doing so may well be prohibitive.

This is not some bunch of bairns going away for a jolly. We are talking about serious adult sportswomen and men who are doing their best to put Shetland on the map in a competitive environment.

The fund announced last week has been much trumpeted but MSP Tavish Scott was also right to describe it is “a start”. In the grand scheme of things it is drop in the ocean compared to what would really make a difference.

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With four friendly matches approaching, and the sudden resignation last week of Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan, the delay in appointing a new international manager is ridiculous.

With the preferred candidate Michael O’Neill deciding to remain in the Northern Ireland job, and Regan and his cohorts having placed all their eggs in one basket, no-one appears to be any further ahead.

A week ago former boss Alex McLeish was thought to be the new favourite, but since then the name of Walter Smith, who held the post before McLeish, has being doing the rounds in the national media.

The fact that they both stepped down from the job previously to take up club management roles, with the Scots reasonably placed for World Cup qualificaton, irked many supporters.

Personally I wouldn’t have any problem with either McLeish or Smith, apart from that in the case of the latter he is approaching 70 and certainly couldn’t be seen as a long-term solution.

Neither is Smith exactly professional at dealing with interviews, as a look at the famous encounter with BBC Scotland’s Chick Young, a much-viewed YouTube classic, will confirm.

Suggestions have also been made that Scot Gemmill, who has done a good job in charge of the under-21 side, might be a decent candidate for the future. And another name back in the frame is SFA peformance director Malky Mackay, who stepped into the role for the last friendly with Holland but was told at that time by Regan he wouldn’t be considered on a permanent basis.

Maybe the best solution would be Smith in overall charge with Gemmill as his assistant and groomed to take over eventually. They could also do worse than call up Ally McCoist, whose effervescent presence was a definite boost last time around and could be so again.

The appointments definitely need to be made before the first two friendlies next month. The matches would have little benefit unless the new manager and his team are in charge.

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Taking in Aberdeen’s deserved but largely unimpressive win over Hamilton at Pittodrie on Saturday was UK environment minister Michael Gove.

Hailing from the city he is a long-time fan, which is refreshing from the politicians who have suddenly become Chelsea or Manchester City followers over the last few years.

I’m not sure the club should ask Gove for any advice on the possible move to a new stadium at Kingswells, however. Aberdeen supporters are just about as divided about the proposal as the Tories are on the Brexit negotiations!


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