GRANT Gilchrist is in no doubt about the size of the challenge that awaits Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday. To end the Six Nations on a high and win at England’s ground for the first time since 1983, they need to reach new heights both physically and in terms of the rugby they play in general. Simple as that.
Bear in mind just how well Scotland have played at times over the past couple of years and that becomes an even taller order. Can they really play better than they did when running up a record win against the Wallabies? Better than they did against England last year? And perhaps most pertinently, can they do it – unlike in those two cases – away from Murrayfield?
The Edinburgh lock is sure that they can. Despite the disappointments of the last three games, Gilchrist is convinced that Scotland reached a high standard in certain aspects of those defeats, and in the win over Italy that preceded them. But he is equally convinced that to win on Saturday they will have to ensure that they reach a high standard in every aspect of the game.
“We need to take the good stuff we did at the weekend [against Wales, and] make the improvement that we needed,” he said. “Physically, we need to be better than we’ve ever been before. That’s a given: you won’t win there unless we defend better and are more physical.
“Our work when we got into the 22 of Wales wasn’t quite good enough. We put them under pressure and got some penalties, but we didn’t get the points we needed and the scores we needed. Getting down there as many times as we did was a positive, because you have to work hard to get in there, so we did pretty well, but we didn’t turn that pressure into points as well as we could have, so that’s a big work-on this week.
“We had a few real opportunities to drive that we’re disappointed [with] – we got penalties from a couple of them, but we really wanted to score the points through that. I think the best teams when they’re down there score the points through their maul or through pick and go or through a different form of scoring. It doesn’t always have to be from 30 metres out, 60-metre tries. Yeah, that’s brilliant, but what we’re working on this week is how we can finish when we’re in the opposition zone.”
Let’s get physical…
Given that Gilchrist’s game is all about physicality, and that he never looks less than wholly committed, it might seem impossible for him to put in a performance at the weekend that is “more physical than ever” if that phrase were taken literally. But, as he explained, it is not so much about applying more force as it is about applying it at the right time and in the right position.
“The physicality isn’t about effort, it’s about accuracy as well,” he explained. “You can try and hit somebody hard, but you’ve got to be in the right position to hit in twos, to make sure that we get set first so that we can then get off the line and get in at them. At times against Wales it wasn’t our tackling, it was getting round the corner – getting beaten round the corner or getting beaten on the edge.
“And getting in that position to become physical is a huge thing as well. And ball in hand you can only be physical if you know what you’re doing and your shape’s right – the right shape around you to get one-on-one tackles and stuff like that. Obviously there’s a lot of things that go on behind that that make it the most physical we’ve ever been, but also be the best rugby we’ve ever played, really.”
Gilchrist was not involved the last time the two teams met at Twickenham, but he sees the 61-21 humiliation as an enduring lesson in how badly a team can get punished if their performance goes off the rails. “The standard of the Six Nations says that if you’re away from home and you get it wrong you can look pretty silly.
“So we understand the pressure on us to perform. If we don’t get it right we won’t compete and we won’t get the win we’re desperately looking for. We know the size of the challenge, but we believe throughout the tournament if we put together the bits we’ve got right into one performance we can beat any team.”
That belief in Scotland’s ability to “beat any team” has not been tested so far in this Championship, for the simple reason that they have not pieced together a sufficient number of “bits” in any one game. What we do have proof of is their ability to lose to most teams if they play some way below their best.
Having said that, amidst the general gloom that has descended as a result of those three losses in a row to Ireland, France and Wales, they were at least in contention until the final few minutes in the latter two matches. That cannot be much consolation to a squad that began the tournament with hopes of ending it as champions, but for Gilchrist it is in a way a source of encouragement as well as frustration.
“There’s no worse feeling than playing for Scotland and losing. We invest everything on and off the pitch all week to win, and it’s not a good place to be when you lose.
“We need to do more. That’s the reality: when you lose you need to do more. We were not good enough to win against Wales, although we came close. If we want to beat these top teams we need to do better. We dust ourselves down, get on with it, put the graft in at training to make sure that we are better. If we can put that out on Saturday, we believe we can win.
“We need to address some areas of our game, and we’re aware that we’re playing one of the best sides in the world at their home. It’s a huge challenge. There is no bigger challenge than going down to Twickenham, but the reward that lies ahead of that is huge. That is what motivates us.”