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Composure key for Scotland

“Statistics are a bit like bikinis, it shows a lot but not the whole thing.” That was Scott Johnson’s view on statistics ahead of Scotland’s visit to Twickenham at the start of the Six Nations, where they had not won for 30 years.

His view was not particularly backed up that week as Scotland fell to yet another Twickenham defeat, but little did he know just how much his view would be vindicated just a few weeks later.

Scotland were played off the park yesterday by Ireland and the statistics completely backed that up, Ireland had 71% possession, 77% of the territory, made 44 tackles to Scotland’s 128, and made four line breaks to Scotland’s zero.

As Johnson said ahead of that first game as interim Head Coach, those statistics show a lot but not everything, for the one statistic that counts, the scoreline, fell in Scotland’s favour, 12-8 to be precise.

From all corners of the Six Nations, fans are asking how can a team that has been so outplayed come away with a victory?

Much of the answer to that question comes in one simple word, composure. Composure was the difference between the two sides, in Greig Laidlaw Scotland had a man that never looked like he would miss one of his kicks at goal.

Every time Scotland entered the Irish 22 Laidlaw looked like a man who knew exactly what he and his team needed, it may have been scrappy and ugly but he knew that all that counted was getting that scoreboard moving.

Ireland, by contrast, played some beautiful rugby at times. Four times they scythed though the Scottish defence but they continually butchered those opportunities. They lacked composure.

Be it from Paddy Jackson in front of goal, Luke Marshall and Keith Earls making the wrong decisions after exquisite breaks, or from Ronan O’Gara trying a little chip pass deep in his own half, a lack of composure cost Ireland dearly.

It was a crying shame to see the lack of composure spread to O’Gara, when he came on the collective feeling around Murrayfield was one of worry, here was a man who has spent the best part of the last 15 years guiding his team around the park, winning tight games through his composure and his tactical mastery of the game of rugby, this was surely the perfect scenario for him.

Watching him struggle and making poor decisions felt like watching the end of a great career, it was not a pleasant experience. He will go down as an Irish great though, 128 caps, three Lions tours, the fly half for Ireland’s first Grand Slam for 61 years in 2009, one of Ireland’s best.

Looking ahead, both sides now face potentially crucial clashes in two weeks time. Scotland will be looking for their third Six Nations victory in a row when they welcome Wales to Murrayfield, should they succeed it will be the first time they have ever achieved that feat.

Scott Johnson will be under no illusions though about the fact that his side will need to improve dramatically against Wales. They cannot yield such significant amounts of possession and territory again or they will be punished, they got lucky yesterday but are unlikely to do so again.

Ireland meanwhile will host France at the Aviva Stadium, with both sides looking to restore some pride after a disastrous few weeks. Ireland must reflect on that first forty minutes against Wales and work out why they were able to click back then.

That lack of composure that crept in against England, and was so glaringly on show against Scotland yesterday, must be wiped out. The plus side for Ireland is that they will be playing against a French side whose confidence is even more shattered than their own, and if Phillipe Saint-Andre continues to haul off his best performers then Ireland should have more than enough.

So to return to the question of how Scotland managed to win in the face of all that statistical Irish advantage, composure obviously was key, so too was that unquantifiable yet key aspect of any Six Nations campaign – momentum.

Scotland had momentum from the Italy game and they used it in that second half against Ireland. From 6-8 down, right through to the final whistle there was an aura of confidence about the Scotland team that has rarely been seen before.

Can they retain that momentum through to the Wales game, where Wales are building some of they own after wins against France and Italy. Can Ireland build some of their own against a French side that is further devoid of momentum than they are?

The answers are anyone’s guess, but that is what makes this tournament so special. Scotland have never won three Six Nations games in a row, indeed they have only ever won three games once before and have not beaten Wales since 2007, so statistically they must have no chance.

Of course statistics are just like bikinis though.

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