MEANWHILE, back on the playing field and away from the Russell-Townsend drama, scrum-half Ali Price had another accomplished performance for Scotland at scrum-half against England on Saturday, combining control from the base with his trademark fluidity, to provide further evidence that he is equipped to be the long term filler to the void left by the retirement of Greig Laidlaw.
There has been some grumbling about his last-minute box-kick which didn’t quite come-off, but that fails to acknowledge the conditions, the field position and the options available to him, at that moment specific moment in time.
He might not be the finished article, yet, but he’s well on the way – and speaks with refreshing frankness about the lessons learned during his previous failed attempts at making the No 9 jersey his own, most notably in Cardiff 2018 when his early interception pass gifted Gareth Davies the try that set the ball rolling in a 34-7 Scottish capitulation.
“International rugby is different because you have to have the management of the game,” he said, when reflecting on his progress so far this season. “You have to construct the match, I feel. When you see conditions like that you can’t run the ball from 30 metres out and expect to make yards all the time.
“I think, especially working with Adam [Hastings], my role is more in the game-management side of things and dictating where we play the game. You know you have to put pressure on the opposition not just by throwing it wide or playing at tempo, you have to pin teams down.
“But in terms of having the No 9 shirt now, I had it a couple of years ago and I lost it through complacency or a bad performance. And I’ve said many times that that’s something I learned a lot from, so in terms of getting comfortable and thinking I’ve cracked it, that’ll never happen again.
“I’d never been in that position before. I’d never had a bad game in a big game. The criticism I had afterwards, I made the mistake of reading every keyboard warrior out there and it got to me. Until I was in that situation, I didn’t know how I’d react, and I didn’t react well.
“What I’d worked so hard to get was suddenly gone within the space of a couple of weeks, and then the tournament had finished, and I couldn’t get a club game. It snowballed. But for me, getting comfortable, I had to learn.
“I’ve got George [Horne], Henry [Pyrgos] and loads of guys who would love the position I’m in at the moment and I would never stand still and think, this is my right.”
Keeping an eye on the prize
Price is close to Scotland’s stand-off Finn Russell. They are former flatmates and Russell told The Sunday Times in his interview this weekend that he looked to Price to spread the message amongst the playing group that he still supported them in spirit, even if his current situation meant he is not there in body. It must be a difficult situation, but he appears to be taking it in his stride.
“I speak to him [Russell] every day,” said Price. “It’s a tricky situation. He loves Scotland, he loves playing for Scotland, and he supports … the boys. He supports me, he supports the team. I’ve read a lot of stuff, as I’m sure everyone has, there’s a lot in it. That’s all I can say on this.
“You’ve probably heard this a few times but we’re not just a one-man team,” he continued. “I think Adam has come in and considering the circumstances and what had been publicised everywhere, I think he’s done a really good job.
“Does Finn come in and add depth to 10, of course he does, he’s a world class 10 and would give Adam a shoot-out for the shirt. Competition is always better in training. Would results have been different (with Finn), what do you say to that? We’ll never know.”
The Italian job
The reality is that Scotland are now zero from two. They have come close against both Ireland and England, and if they had got over the line in either of those matches then the whole campaign would have had a very different complexion – and the Russell issue would be nowhere near as urgent for most fans as it is now.
“We’ll take what comes our way,” stated Price. “From the public and whoever, we’ve got to stick together as a group. We’ve played Ireland away, who have lost one game in however many years, and now they’ve just beaten Wales comfortably. Then we play England, who made it to the World Cup Final a couple of months ago. And we could have won both of them really, [because ] we were right in the game.
“We know that we’re not far away, there’s a new feel around the squad with some boys retiring and we try to bring a new energy to what the squad’s about. And it’s there. We’re enjoying our training and enjoying going out and putting it in with each other.
“We just need to flip these results. It’s easier said than done, but these good teams that are doing that – Ireland last week, England this week – we’re the team that’s just lost. We want to flip that. We’ll stick together, we’re a tight bunch and we target these next three games. It starts tomorrow [Sunday].
“This down week has maybe come at a good time,” suggested Price. “We’ve got a week when we can just focus on ourselves and there’s a weekend when there’s no pressure on us. We can build and look to go to Rome and put in a great performance.
“I feel we can build on aspects of both games, probably more so Ireland than England because that was a bit of a slog. But we can build on those aspects of things we did right [against England].
“The discipline in the first half wasn’t great for us. Farrell missed a couple of shots at goal which could have stretched the lead for them. Against these sides, they want to march you down the field. We need to cut that out, and our speed to the breakdown needs to improve.
“We talk about trying to have energy in the 22,” he added. “That doesn’t mean we’re frantic, running at a million miles an hour to get at one-out runners. I felt at times we looked after the ball really well and in conditions like those, you’re trying to get penalties, hit three and regroup. It comes down to technicality at the breakdown, organisation at the rucks, not going in ones and twos.
“We go to Rome now and we must win … be confident that we can win. France at home, again it’s another opportunity in front of our supporters and fans to put a foot forward and try and come away with a win. Then we’re two from two and go down to Cardiff with a bit of momentum. That’s the goal now.”