SCOTLAND flanker Hamish has jumped to the defence of team-mate Zander Fagerson after the tight-head prop was controversially red-carded midway through the second half of Saturday’s Six Nations round two defeat to Wales at Murrayfield.
Fagerson was given his marching orders in the 54th minute after his shoulder made contact with opposite number Wyn Jones‘ head as he cleared out a ruck. Opinion on social media, amongst pundits covering the match and even those directly involved in the game, has diverged on whether it was a fair call by referee Matthew Carley and Television Match Official Karl Dickson.
Opposition captain Alun Wyn Jones expressed sympathy for the Scotsman when interviewed immediately after the match. “I feel for Zander because a lot of those when your head’s down and you are wiping, it comes down to one man’s interpretation, or the interpretation of the rules, so it’s a tough one,” he said. “But obviously there is that remit before the competition.”
Whilst insisting that the sending-off was not the decisive factor in his team’s narrow defeat, Scotland flanker Watson was clearly furious on behalf of his team-mate.
“That was a rubbish call,” said Watson. “An absolutely dreadful call. That’s not rugby, that call.”
“Zander is absolutely fine,” he added. “We’ve already got round him. He’s a great player and a big part of everything we do with Scotland.
“He can hold his head high, I think. We lost that game in the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 10 of the second. We lost that game when we had 15 on the field. Zander has nothing to worry about.
“I haven’t heard the comms from the TV but I’ve heard from other people that the TMO said it wasn’t a red, then the ref has overruled him,” Watson added. “The ref has the right to do that if he thinks that’s the right call, but we as players strongly disagree with that call.
“As soon as I saw it on the TV, I was thinking: ‘That’s not even a penalty’. It is what it is. The ref has overruled it and that’s his decision, he has the power to do that. There’s not much else we can say. We don’t think it’s a red, a yellow or even a penalty. But that’s the way the game is going.”
While Watson was quick to jump to the defence of Fagerson, he did agree that Scotland’s discipline over the course of the full 80 minutes was a problem.
“It’s obviously an immensely frustrating result,” he conceded. “We opened the game really well, which is sometimes something we struggle to do. We controlled the first 20-30 minutes and could have gone even more in front when we were down in their half., and another try would have been game over, but our ill-discipline cost us the game. It’s not good enough and we’re all gutted.
“We know how good a team we are but the fans deserved a better performance, and we deserved a better performance from ourselves as well. Wales didn’t win it. We had that game in our hands and we chucked it away. It’s pretty tough to take.”
Scotland now have a rest week before a daunting trip to Paris, where they haven’t won since 1999, to take on France on Sunday 28th February. Watson says he is in no doubt that his team can bounce back to not only win that match, but also the two subsequent home games against Ireland and Italy.
“France away is going to be 10 times harder than the game on Saturday, but we know we’re a good enough team to go to there and beat them,” he insisted. “We haven’t done that for a while, so we want to get that monkey off our backs.
“Saturday doesn’t change how good a team we are. We lost from our own undoing. But we still believe we can go to France then win these next three games.
“It will be tough, but we will regroup and get it right for France.”
Scroll down to continue reading:
Meanwhile, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend insists that his team can put right the wrongs which led to his team’s agonising defeat to Wales, with cutting down the number of penalties conceded, and the frustrating habit of coughing them up in quick succession, a key priority.
“You have to make sure you don’t give them away back-to-back and give easy territorial gains to the opposition, because once you are in your 22 or 10 metres from your own line, you are going to be under pressure,” said the coach.
“It’s certainly something we can practice,” he added. “We practiced and talked about it a lot after the Ireland game [in the Autumn, when Scotland lost the penalty count 15-10].
“Discipline is not just one thing, but an easy one to fix is staying onside. Other ones are decision making around what you do in your maul defence. We gave a couple of penalties away there from poor decisions which put us under pressure.
“There’s also decision making around the tackle area. I don’t think there were many penalties from that in this game – but obviously the ruck clear from Zander led to a red card. So, there are certainly things we can talk about and practice.
“The opposition put you under pressure to concede penalties, as we did against England and as we did again at times against Wales, so you have to factor that in. But it’s something we can work on and improve, as we showed between the Ireland and England games.”
Despite conceding that Scotland were architects of their own downfall on Saturday, Townsend was not happy when it was suggested that his team just aren’t equipped for the emotional, psychological and physical challenge of backing up one dominant performance as produced against England last weekend with another one the following week.
“I hope you would have seen evidence of their mentality in the way the players played,” he snapped. “To build up such a big lead and play with that accuracy, that energy, we had Wales under pressure. We built up that lead and had a try ruled out that could have put us even further ahead.
“We really felt this was going to be an 80-minute contest but we were well ahead on the scoreboard. Other things happened that put us under pressure. Obviously, the red card being one, with our concentration just slipping for five minutes, and Wales taking their chances.
“But the players backed up their performance in England. I thought the performance was outstanding, and even better in some aspects than the win at Twickenham.”
“I want the players to move on,” he added. “We’ve got to take what will make us a real threat and challenge for France, in how we played and how we defended against Wales, and obviously we’ve got to fix the areas that make it easier for teams to get into games, but that would be the process whether we’d won or lost.”