SCOTLAND are still very much in the hunt in the Six Nations Championship, but there is ample room for improvement as they look ahead to their remaining three fixtures after the win in Wales and the home defeat by France. That was the joint message from scrum-half Ben White and hooker Ewan Ashman as they assessed those opening two games.
Gregor Townsend‘s side lie third in the table at present, behind leaders Ireland and second-placed England. They have five match points – four for beating the Welsh and one for a narrow loss to the French – but it might well have been nine had the final decisions in both of those matches gone their way.
Duhan van der Merwe was denied a hat-trick in Cardiff after he was ruled not to have grounded the ball for what would have been the bonus-point score. And Sam Skinner‘s touchdown against France, if given, would have turned defeat into victory.
Given how close Scotland have come, then, from making a merely decent start to a hugely promising one, it was no surprise that one of the key improvements identified by White was the need for the team to take their chances when they arrive. “When we’re on top, we need to be accurate,” he said. “Against Wales when we were on top we took our chances really well – the few that we had.
“Against France, I thought our patience was really good in the finish zone and we put them under good pressure – but it was just a couple of passes [that let us down].
“Whether we can play them a little bit earlier, or just how we convert that pressure into points, is something I think we can do better.
“One thing I think we have done, partly due to the conditions, is kick a little bit more and try to get good ball back. When we’re in these kick battles, it’s how we can come alive as a team – how we can bring some of our individuals into it.
“The more we can get some of our athletes on the ball, the better we play.”
After losing his starting place to Ali Price for the team’s last pool game at the Rugby World Cup, 25-year-old White has has re-established himself as first-choice scrum-half for the Six Nations, and credits his new club Toulon for his improved form following his move late last year.
“It’s been a big change, but I’m enjoying my rugby and I think I can definitely grow as a player there,” he said. “It’s a fantastic club with great players, great coaches and a really good environment, and I think I can definitely grow as a player out there.
“It’s taken me a bit of time to get used to it. Being a half-back that doesn’t speak much French, it tests you, which is great. There are not many jobs where you get to travel the world and you’re thrown in at the deep end.
“But I’ve met some fantastic people. I’m trying to learn a new language and also a new way of playing at times and I think that has helped me with Scotland. I feel like my kicking and some of my core skills have got better with the time I’ve spent with Pierre [Mignoni, head coach] and the other players, just working on those things, it’s been great.”
“I’m having lessons when I can, twice a week,” he added when asked how his French was coming on. “I’m enjoying learning. I try to get out and about and speak to people. Some people probably think I’m talking utter rubbish when I’m trying to order something, but it’s part of the fun. It’s a great opportunity for me and I’m enjoying the challenge.
“I’ve played for a couple of different clubs now, and when you go to different places you learn something new and you develop more as a player and try to become a more rounded individual. I want to enjoy my rugby, I want to play in big games every week and I feel like I’m able to do that at the minute. I’m enjoying the challenge of it all and it’s gone all right so far, I think, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Meanwhile, Ashman – a replacement for Warriors hooker George Turner in both games so far – agrees with White that there are things that Scotland will have to improve on in their remaining three games. But he is confident they have a lot of positive things to build on, and is sure they can still be contenders for the title.
“I think we ended the France game very strong,” the Edinburgh forward said. “We can definitely learn lessons from it and also pick out the good things then carry that forward into England. It should be a really good game.
“We need to learn what we can do better. We shouldn’t have let them back into the game like we did, which is the frustrating thing.
“But we’re still very much in the competition. We need to win the remaining games – I don’t think we need to look much further than that. The next game, we need to win. The game following, we have to win. Just take it game by game and do what we can.”