Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The Sunday Mirror and People, reports on a Scot who has put the spark back into Scotland and reveals that Eddie Jones is still not happy.
At Twickenham on Saturday, before the England game against Samoa kicked off, a few of us punting hacks were going through the handicaps for the day’s games.
Samoa were given a 32-point start by the men with the satchels and Rolls Royces, Argentina a 16-point start against Ireland and Wales a 17-point start against New Zealand.
The Kiwis beat Wales 33-18 and England beat the brilliant Samoans 48-14 so the layers were not too far off the mark there although they had a bit of wobble when the Pumas closed to be 28-19 losers to the Irish in Dublin.
But one bet stood out and knocked us right between the eyes. It ended up a loser and we are going to blame Gregor Townsend for sending us skint.
Scotland were given just a five-point start to beat the Australians. For those who don’t get involved in the seedier side of sport, and did not have a misspent youth, this means that if you backed the Wallabies and they won by more than five points then you would be quids in.
And so your correspondent, and more than one other, duly clicked the ‘BET’ button.
Easy money, surely? The Scots couldn’t possibly back up their near-miss against the Kiwis the week before and they were missing centre Alex Dunbar from the team they announced on the Thursday.
Okay, they had beaten Australia in the summer but they had collapsed to Fiji a week later. Plus the Wallabies were spitting after being beaten by England and it was Stephen Moore’s 129th and final cap in the green and gold. All over the bar shouting.
Even our resident Scot in the press box, who would later be regretting he was not at Murrayfield, was all doom and gloom at their prospects. And that takes some doing.
And when Stuart Hogg, the full-back billed as possibly Scotland’s greatest ever player by Tom English of the BBC, pulled out after being injured in the warm-up that five-point handicap looked even more of a banging bet.
And we know what happened next and you really did have to be Mystic Meg to predict this one.
The Australians and the Scots have had some close encounters at Murrayfield over the years. In 2016 it was 23-22 to the Wallabies, 21-15 to the Aussies in 2013 and 9-8 to the Scots in 2012 so if backing the Australians with a five-point start knocked us between the eyes the eventual result put us on the deck.
53-24 to Scotland, and that is not a typing error, and it was the Scots biggest points tally against a Tier One nation and against a team ranked three places above them, and only behind New Zealand and England according the boffins.
The Wallabies were hung, drawn and quartered like one of the blokes in that gory series Gunpowder as the Scots ran in eight tries. A week earlier England had run in four against Michael Cheika’s mob and three of them came in the last 10 minutes.
This was a good-old fashioned hiding in Edinburgh and all of a sudden the Six Nations got a bit more interesting.
Yes, the Aussies had Sekope Kepu their prop sent off before half-time, for a brutal challenge on Hamish Watson, but the Scots would have won anyway.
From where I was watching Murrayfield looked it was buzzing with a full house of 67,100 in attendance so maybe the locals have got the hint that Townsend could really be on to something.
As a player Townsend, now 44, was a talented fly-half who did turns for teams such as Gala, Warringah in Sydney, Northampton, Brive, Castres, the Sharks in South Africa, Montpellier and Border Reivers as they were then.
So he has been around the block.
Throw in 82 Scotland caps between 1993 and 2003 and a starring role on the winning British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 1997 and it is clear he knows a bit about playing rugby.
But coaching rugby, if you have been a great player, is a different matter altogether – just ask Martin Johnson.
Townsend, Scotland boss since just before their summer tour, has been has had coaching gigs at the Reivers, with Scotland A, as national backs’ coach and with Glasgow before taking the main man job at Murrayfield in May.
He was so desperate to get his hands on the Scottish side that he knocked back an approach from Warren Gatland to help him out on the Lions tour of New Zealand. And that decision is starting to pay off.
As much as we love the job Eddie Jones has done for England, and we love the job Eddie Jones has done for England, it is refreshing to see a northern hemisphere country, that isn’t France, give one of their own a crack at the top job.
On Saturday, Townsend’s team gave it some biff at the breakdown – thanks to the outstanding Watson – but some of their attacking stuff was brilliant. And this was without Hogg who may or may not be the greatest Scottish player, Andy Irvine and Jim Renwick are personal favourites, but he is certainly their best attacker at the moment.
They had some decent players on show in the backs at the weekend. Sean Maitland stepped in for Hogg at full-back and Finn Russell and Ali Price, the half-backs, were pretty decent.
And the Sale wing Byron McGuigan, who came off the bench because of Maitland’s positional switch, skipped over for two tries on his second appearance and must be wondering what all the fuss is about around Test rugby.
Some Scottish observers think this could be the best attacking Scotland team since the one of the late
1990s. Their fly-half then is their head coach now.
Townsend has already said he wants his team to play rugby with more pace than anyone else in the world and, although they made some mistakes, it was certainly a step up from some of their stodgier efforts over the last few years. We should have seen it coming – he did the trick with Glasgow when they won the Pro12 in 2015.
And us gambling types probably should have listened to Townsend a bit more closely in the aftermath of the 22-17 defeat by the world champion Kiwis.
Then he said: “The players came with an ambition, an energy and aggression you have to have when you play New Zealand. To have that all in a package was rare. Sometimes you come with aggression but you don’t have the accuracy; sometimes you have the accuracy but not the aggression. The more I’m thinking about it, the more gutted we all are that we didn’t get a win.” Well he got his win on Saturday all right.
There are plenty hoping he will do the trick with Scotland – they mostly live north of Hadrian’s Wall though – but no side will relish going up to Murrayfield in the Six Nations. Red Hot Chilli Pipers or no Red Hot Chilli Pipers, the real action will be going on when the ref blows his whistle.
For the record the Calcutta Cup match, against England, takes place at Murrayfield on 24 February 2018. Apparently, there might be a bit of a demand for tickets.
World Rugby staged a glitzy bash on Sunday night, in that rugby hot bed Monaco, for their annual awards and the coach of the year gong went to Eddie Jones.
And he still wasn’t happy.
We weren’t there – we watched it on an internet feed – but one of our number was there and she reported that it was a massive gala occasion. We wonder what the Samoans make of that but that is for another day.
Jones seemed a bit nonplussed when he picked up the award – after all England have lost one game on his watch and are not the number one-ranked team in the world.
Jones, who reckoned Steve Hansen should have got the award, got up on stage and drilled back the message that he had given to us on Saturday night at Twickenham after England’s win over Samoa.
He was preparing to pack his players back to their clubs and won’t be seeing them again until a training camp in January. But he warned them he would be keeping an eye on them.
The likes of Sam Simmonds, Alex Lozowski, Piers Francis, Sam Underhill have had a bit of game this autumn but Jones is still on their case.
He said: “It all goes out the window now, because the squad disassembles and we reassemble in eight weeks time. The next eight weeks is a great opportunity for players to show how much desire they’ve got to be part of a World Cup-winning side. A lot of it goes out the window because some blokes could now not show that they’ve got the desire to work hard, so we start again.”
Coach of the Year, he has 22 wins in Tests on his watch, out of 23, and Jones is still not a happy bunny.
This bloke could go places.