Jackson worthy of a chance
November 27, 2010
Ruaridh Jackson's late penalty did not tell the whole story at Pittodrie © Getty Images
Scotland's win over South Africa last weekend earned them some good grace among their fans and the brave souls that made their way to a snow-covered Pittodrie to see them scrape past Samoa will have left with the warm feeling that their side is going places.
They may have won by three points but in the same way as England were praised for their workmanlike win over the tourists last weekend, Scotland deserve congratulations for scrapping their way through this one. This Samoan side are a pretty lean outfit, they do the things expected of them in running hard and tackling harder, but also boast good organisation and several increasingly classy operators in scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'I, centre Seilala Mapusua and fullback Paul Williams.
Twelve months ago a hard-fought Scottish victory over Australia was followed up by a limp loss to Argentina and a lesson was learned that momentum is gained the hard way. That's what Scotland had before their All Blacks debacle two weeks ago but after dusting themselves down and securing two positive results they can look forward to the Six Nations next year where home ties against Ireland, Wales and Italy will be targeted.
Glasgow's Ruaridh Jackson has an important few months ahead and Robinson will be an avid viewer of his club form. Fly-half has long been a problem position for the Scots and Dan Parks again proved his fallibility against the Samoans. Last weekend he ran through the full repertoire of his wet weather tricks to beat the Boks, landing penalty after penalty and knocking over an opportunist drop-goal, but Scotland have longed for a playmaker and in Jackson they have the clay from which to model one.
He is young, raw and inexperienced but with Parks now plying his trade in Cardiff, he has added responsibility at domestic level and is already making a compelling case for inclusion on the Test stage. The Scotland management knows Parks' game inside-out and with Phil Godman on the shelf due to injury it is perhaps time for Jackson to get the Quade Cooper treatment.
Cooper's defensive frailties and variable temperament are well founded but he has been given a shot as he offers a point of difference in an Australian side that has struggled to find an identity. Jackson would benefit from similar exposure. With his background in Sevens rugby he is less agoraphobic than Parks and Scotland proved again on Saturday that they still lack an attacking spark to complement an increasingly competent pack of forwards.
With a centre pairing of Graeme Morrison and either Joe Ansbro or Max Evans there is no question of a 'second playmaker' option in midfield, placing a great deal of pressure on the fly-half to engineer space. Parks has proven his worth as a tactician but for times on Saturday the wings would have had an all-too familiar fear of freezing to death on their flank.
Scotland's try came from a well-worked set move, where a Morrison decoy was used to create space for a marauding Nikki Walker. Parks was the instigator off a solid scrum but showed moments later with two flighty pieces of play, including a farcical grubber under pressure, that he lacks the off-the-cuff skill to improvise an escape route for his side. This is, of course, well known, but the Scottish talent pool has not thrown up a suitable alternative in recent seasons.
Jackson is currently under-nourished in terms of experience due to Parks' long tenure at the Warriors, and some admittedly excellent kicking performances during the latter part of the Six Nations, but time is running out before next year's Rugby World Cup. Scotland, like South Africa, currently lack an adequate Plan B and with a limited number of competitive internationals remaining before New Zealand's big kick-off certain gambles must be taken to try and foster an attacking edge.
Scotland's group, while lacking a Tri-Nations superpower, will be fiercely contested as they go up against familiar foes England and Argentina. They can beat both sides but at the moment neither will be overly worried about defending against them. Saturday's win over Samoa was a case in point as several opportunities went begging and the opposition were allowed to settle in and remain in touch despite losing the battle for possession.
Scotland's rise will plateau if they cannot find something new. It's time for a leap of faith.
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Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.