Home > Home life > A Retrospective on Scotland at the RWC2011

A Retrospective on Scotland at the RWC2011

A week later, the pain has subsided enough for me to talk about Scotland’s showing at the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.

Now, many of you may not know that I am a rugby fan. I only got into it about five years ago when I took an ex-girlfriend to a Scotland vs. Italy game for a Valentine’s Day gift (incidentally, Scotland got beat…), but from that point on it was a match made in heaven (between me and rugby, not me and the ex-girlfriend). This was especially surprising to me since I had hated all forms of team sports when I was growing up, and the fact that I disliked football (remembering that I grew up in Scotland) put me on a social footing equal with that of a leper. But rugby tapped into something I had no idea I had the capacity for: passion at a bunch of guys running around a pitch and smashing each other with bone-crunching tackles in the pursuit of a try.

This passion typically manifests itself as very loud shouting at the action. I cheer and scream as my team do well (or more usually, do something stupid), and as someone who is generally quite reserved, this display is at odds with the majority of my day-to-day behaviour. And it’s only through watching rugby that I’ve come to an understanding about why sport is followed so vigorously by millions of people. When Scotland played Australia a couple of years ago and Matt Giteau (in an uncharacteristically bad kicking display) missed the conversion which would have won Australia the game had it gone over, the bar I was in literally exploded in a scene of joy which would typically be associated with the barman announcing all drinks were on the house (especially in Scotland). It felt amazing to be a part of it.

So it was with great expectation that I looked forward to Rugby World Cup 2011, this time held in New Zealand. The last world cup around was in France in 2007. Scotland had made it through to the quarter finals and were facing Argentina. A dogged game followed and Argentina won 19 – 13 after some ridiculous ‘decision making’ by Dan Parks to try a ridiculous cross-field kick in the last minute… It was the first (but unfortunately not the last) time I was to be psychologically gutted about losing.

When the draw was announced for RWC 2011, Scotland was placed in the same group as Argentina and England, but a series win against Argentina in 2010 and a close run defeat by England at the Six Nations 2011 meant that Scotland were reasonably confident of qualifying for the quarter finals. Coupled with a win against South Africa and the appointment of Andy Robinson, things were looking up for Scottish rugby.

Unfortunately, however, Scotland seems to be afflicted by a severe case of ‘try-line-phobia’, meaning that the games we have won (Australia, S.A., Argentina) have been decided through the kicking prowess of Chris Paterson and Dan Parks (as a footnote, I shook Chris Paterson’s hand after the Bath vs. Edinburgh game in the Heineken Cup. I squealed like a complete fan-boy afterwards). The lack of tries means that if your team scores two penalties, it only requires the opposition to score one try and convert it for them to be ahead.

After two unconvincing wins against Romania and Georgia (with the game in Georgia a particularly close run affair), we had to defeat Argentina to have any hope of qualifying to the quarter finals. And for 70 minutes, a win looked to be on the cards, with a pack controlling the game (in spite of losing Euan Murray due to his religious beliefs preventing him from playing on a Sunday) and the backs occasionally threatening the try line. Dan Parks and Ruaridh Jackson made a couple of well-timed drop goals, but even with ‘penalty advantage’ (meaning that although the opposition has given away a penalty, the attacking team is given the option of continuing to pressure for a try with the knowledge that if they mess it up, they can still fall back on being given a penalty and a shot at 3-points), Dan Parks went for the drop-goal when we should have gone for the try.

It was in the 72 minute that a sloppy restart was totally uncontested by Scotland (the team who is scored against kicks the ball to the opposition to restart the game, so Argentina kicked it to Scotland). Argentina collected the ball and an Argentine back managed to squeeze through four defenders and touch down, and the conversion duly slotted by Contempomi more or less ended Scotland’s hopes of progressing as Argentina went in front 13-12. But there was still about 5 minutes left on the clock, and Scotland did well to scramble the ball down to the Argentine 22, pushing for the drop goal that would win us the game. A few line-outs on the Argentine 5 metre line put the ball down in the red-zone and the forwards battered the ball up through the phases, readying Dan Parks to go for the drop goal.

What happened next is unclear (even from the replays). At the base of the ruck, the opposition team is deemed ‘off-side‘ if they’re in front of the back foot of the last player involved in the ruck. This offence generally results in a penalty being awarded to the attacking team. Where it gets confusing is that off-side is only valid so long as the ball isn’t in play and as soon as the ball is touched (usually by the attacking team’s scrum half), off-side no longer applies and the defending team can move in front of the rear-most foot of players involved in the ruck (clear as mud so far, right?). In the case of this game, it looks like Mike Blair (Scotland scrum half) touches the ball to pass it to Dan Parks for the drop goal, but as soon as he does so, Contempomi manages to get in the way of Parks and forces him to kick on his weaker left foot. The debate which raged after the game was whether Contempomi was off-side (interestingly, he actually admitted that he was off-side), but it was missed by referee Wayne Barnes, the ball sailed on the left of the uprights and Scotland were denied a clear penalty.

But that’s not why we lost the game. We lost the game because of inattention at a crucial point in the game (the restart which led to Argentina’s try) and an clinical inability to score tries. This came back to haunt us in the game against England, a game Scotland had to win by 8 points or more to have a chance of progressing to the QFs. We didn’t, and the end of the game had an eerily familiar slant to it: 10 minutes to go, botched restart, poor defending, England try, Scotland defeat.

The Scotland team looked shell-shocked at the end of the game, with many of the team openly weeping at being kicked out of the World Cup. Truth be told, it was hard enough for me to not start crying. The hopes of Scottish rugby fans were dashed by two teams who were offered only one chance each to score a try, and they both took them.

It’s hard being a Scottish rugby fan, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and come February next year, I’ll be sitting there with my pint of Guinness watching the Six Nations, screaming and cheering my team with utter abandon, believing to my core that we can win. Otherwise, what’s the point of being a fan?

The Social Linguist

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