If you had been told before the Autumn tests began that Scotland would finish with two wins and two losses you would probably have accepted that outcome, especially since we were facing two of the best nations in world rugby in Australia and New Zealand.

What nobody among the pundits foresaw was that Scotland would run Australia and New Zealand mighty close – the men in blue and lilac could and should have won both tests – and that the match against Argentina would see the Scots score eight tries and attain their highest-ever points total over Los Pumas.

That result and the victory over Fiji plus the showings against the All Blacks and the Wallabies allow me to give pass marks for Scotland in the Autumn tests.

The Scottish squad and their coaches are not perfect, far from it, but the signs of the necessary improvement are there.

Saturday’s match was an absolute classic of entertaining rugby. Yes, Scotland shipped a couple of dodgy tries and the Pumas played the majority of the match with 14 men, but that red card for Marcos Kremer was fully deserved and no one from the Argentinian squad disagreed once they saw the video replay. For reasons that will become obvious in the coming weeks, I am becoming even firmer in my desire to expose the sport of rugby union’s often ambivalent attitude to head damage, and anybody defending Kremer’s wild swing to the head of Jamie Ritchie should go away and pursue another sport such as cage fighting.

I am very happy to award better than pass marks to six Scottish backs in particular – Finn Russell, Duhan van der Merwe, Sione Tuipulotu, Chris Harris, Darcy Graham and Stuart Hogg. It’s not that the other backs were poor, it’s just that these six players were outstanding over the piece.

Against the All Blacks and the Pumas we saw what Finn Russell brings to the side. This will probably be anathema to his legion of fans, but maybe being dropped from the squad by head coach Gregor Townsend was just the impetus needed for Russell to return in glory. It will show in the history books that Townsend erred in not having Russell for the match against Australia at least, but the coach acted decisively once Adam Hastings got injured and was man enough to put Russell straight into the opening XV against the All Blacks. Not that Blair Kinghorn or Adam Hastings played badly, it was just that Russell proved he is by far the best stand-off we have.

HeraldScotland: Finn Russell leaves Argentina players in his wakeFinn Russell leaves Argentina players in his wake (Image: SNS)

Not since Townsend himself was the pivot in the No.10 jersey have I seen such a consummate display of skill and commitment, specially in attack, as Russell showed at the weekend. It was mesmeric stuff and you could not take your eyes off him as he orchestrated a terrific showing by Scotland’s backs – and when was the last time in international rugby that eight tries in a match were all scored by the backs?

Tuipulotu is our best centre at the moment and looks set for a long run in the team. As for Chris Harris, I am in awe at his contributions in defence in particular though he loves to attack with his powerful running that sets the opposition on the back foot.

You had to feel sorry for Darcy Graham on Saturday. To score a hat-trick and not be Man of the Match is a rare eventuality but there really was no question about the award going to Russell. Graham has become the world-class winger that everyone in Hawick knew he could be, and I believe he is only going to get better.

On the other wing Duhan van der Merwe has his opposite numbers on toast in most matches. To paraphrase the Duke of Wellington talking about his soldiers, I don’t know what effect big Duhan has on the enemy but by God he frightens me.

Stuart Hogg’s displays overall were impressive. I think he showed the benefits of his summer break away from the tour to Argentina, and though he is no spring chicken, he still has a youthful joy about him, as he showed after his try on Saturday.

So those six backs have shown that given the platform they can lead Scotland to victory.

The great thing for this coaching team is that Scotland has strength in depth inthe backs, and I would point to Blair Kinghorn’s abilities as a utility back as a good example for young Scots to follow – you have more chance of being capped if you can play in more than one position.

Concentrating on the fancy dans in the backs means I have no words left for the pack but then I don’t need very many – just keep doing what they are doing and Scotland will win many more matches than they will lose.


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