SHADE Munro believes that his Scotland squad are capable of bringing a barren run of 12 years to an end in this year’s Six Nations Championship and winning all three of their away fixtures.
Munro’s team beat both Wales and Italy at home last year, but they have not won on the road in the tournament since 2006, when they defeated both Ireland and Spain, who were then in the tournament instead of Italy. With away fixtures against the Welsh, the Irish and the Italians this year, the head coach is confident that his players have the mental strength needed to come back with a win each time.
“Yes, definitely,” the head coach said yesterday when asked if his players were capable of the away treble. “I think there’s a definite belief. We’ve not lost a game since the last Six Nations, which is good considering they went through years of not winning, or were used to losing. There’s now a belief: they feel as if they’re getting somewhere.
“Ireland, Italy, Wales – you would hope that we’d be able to compete in the areas where we might not be as strong. The difficulty will be when we play France and England, who are very strong, almost professional teams. It’s a physicality thing, it’s a size thing, it’s a professional thing. It’s a numbers game as well All these things weigh against you.
“That’s not to say we’re not going to meet the challenge head-on. We’ll see how we’ve progressed from last year, where we struggled against those two teams, to be honest.”
Indeed, both England and France will be favourites to win by sizeable margins at Scotstoun, the national team’s new home this season. But if they do win their three other games, Scotland will almost certainly have done enough to finish in the upper half of the table, an achievement which would represent significant progress for Munro, who is in his third year in the post.
The aim in north Wales on Friday night, when the match is part of a double-header with the men’s under-20s fixture, will be to win enough ball up front to allow the backs to do their stuff. Scotland look stronger behind the scrum than Wales, but the home side’s real strength is in the set piece, and the heavier the pitch is, the more that will play to their strengths.
“They’re certainly a very physical, scrummaging, lineout driving, type of a team – very strong at the contact,” Munro added. “Whereas we tend to play a bit more than they do.”
The team for Friday’s game was originally due to be announced on Monday, but Munro decided to postpone it until Wednesday with the aim of keeping the Welsh guessing about his selection for longer. He looks likely to name Jade Konkel at loosehead rather than in her usual back-row position as he continues his policy of trying to get all of his best ball-players on the pitch at the same time.
“The reason I didn’t want to announce the team earlier was purely because we’ve played Wales already and they will know about us,” he explained. “They have footage of our players. We’re keeping them guessing about who might play where.”
A bounce match against Wales at Oriam in the autumn offered a good indication of how Friday’s game might unfold, as Scotland won despite coming off second best up front. “It was a training match, behind closed doors, rolling subs, all that kind of stuff,” Munro added.
“We didn’t win huge amounts of ball in the training game. So that’s a key area. We certainly worked on that pre-Spain [the game that was postponed earlier this month], and we’re going to be working on it again for the Wales game.”