RWC23: “We know who we are a bit better now” – Jamie Ritchie

Scotland skipper says 2019 disappointment will make team stronger this Autumn

Jamie Ritchie has fond memories of losing to Japan. Image: © Craig Watson -
Jamie Ritchie has fond memories of losing to Japan. Image: © Craig Watson -

JAMIE RITCHIE says that Scotland’s defeat to Japan in Yokohama back in 2019, which led to their ejection from that World Cup at the end of the pool stage, was one of his favourite games for Scotland – but he is in no mood to repeat that experience in France this Autumn.

The Scotland skipper – speaking at yesterday’s squad announcement in South Queensferry under the shadow of the Forth bridges – insisted that the team are in a much better position to make a success of this year’s event than they were four years ago, in terms of physical preparation, gameplan and squad cohesion.

“We know who we are a bit better now,” replied Richie, when asked how Scotland have improved since their flop in Japan. “We are really clear in what we’re trying to do and how we are trying to play. Not that we necessarily weren’t in 2019, but it just feels much better now in terms of: ‘Right, this is how we are going to attack’.

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“Our defence is different and, in my opinion, stronger. Everyone is buying in. As a collective I think we are in a stronger position.”

Asked about the squad’s conditioning, Ritchie replied: “I think we’ve learned from our experience in 2019 and around what we’ve been doing in pre-season – a little more contact-based stuff and more variety of game focus.

“We’ve been into rugby from the start, which I think is probably the most important thing. And I think the way the boys have gone about their work in this off-season period has been outstanding. Every session the boys have worked hard, they’ve emptied the tank, and I couldn’t ask for anymore. I think that commitment level has made a difference as well.”

Ritchie spoke to Stuart McInally after the former captain found out that he’d been cut from the squad for this tournament, and they have previously discussed the challenges of leading the side during that ill-fated 2019 tournament, but not in any great detail.

“I think there was probably other stuff going on for him then in and around the group that he maybe wasn’t in control of,” said the all-action flanker, who officially took over leadership of the team last Autumn. “So, for me, I like to keep my foot on the pulse a wee bit and make sure the group is in a good place.

“I think we spoke about it briefly. We just said it is quite an intense environment and what goes on off the field is probably the more important part in terms of how everyone is getting on, but I think we are in such a great place with that at the moment that I don’t foresee any problems.

“It’s just about being aware of what it’s like in the environment. It’s pretty intense in terms of everyone being up for media every day, there are a lot more eyes on you, you need to be aware of what you’re wearing in and around camp. Everything’s turned up a bit, the intensity’s turned up. I think the boys are prepared for that, it’s something we’ve addressed as a group.

“For me, that [2019] World Cup was a bit of a whirlwind with the circumstances going into it – getting injured in the game just before we left, not sure if I was going to play, missing the first game because I hadn’t recovered from my operation,” he added. “Then, after the first game, we needed to win every game with a bonus point.

“The last game [versus Japan], with the typhoon beforehand and everything going on around it … it was a great game, probably one of my favourite games in a Scotland jersey, even though it was a loss,” he continued. “It was just such a massive occasion, one of the best atmospheres I have ever been involved in.

“I would like to think I have improved [since then], I’m probably a bit of a cooler head on the pitch now. I used to be a bit angry!”

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Some doubters may argue that Ritchie’s fiery character has not been completely doused and that this means he is not always that best person to communicate with the referee mid-match.

“It probably depends on the decision, to be honest,” he retorts. “I feel like I’m growing in experience all the time in and around that stuff and I’m starting to separate the two roles [of playing on the edge and being spokesman for the team] better, so I’m pretty happy with where I’m at.

“I used to waste a wee bit of energy with some handbags back in the day. I used to feel that I needed to be angry and aggressive to play well. Now I’m more confident that I can be a bit of a calmer head that can play with that controlled aggression that I need.

“Probably the most important thing for any leader or captain is making sure you’re playing well and leading by example. That’s the best position to lead from.

“So, I’ve got a process that I go through every week in terms of making sure that I tick off everything that I need to tick off before I worry about what everyone else is doing. I’ve got a list of things I write down every day: what I want to cover off and then by the time it comes to stepping off the bus I’m ready for the game on Saturday or whatever day it is, I know that I’ve covered all my bases so that I can be confident and calm going into games.”

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About David Barnes 3995 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.