Scotland rugby captain Jamie Ritchie gets back in touch with roots on visit to Fife club that helped launch his rugby career
All that stands in the way of the Scots, currently ranked fifth in the world, racking up more victories against the four teams rated above them – Ireland, France, New Zealand and South Africa – is consistency in delivering their A game, reckons the former Howe of Fife flanker.
The 26-year-old delivered that assessment of the national team’s prospects at this year’s Rugby World Cup in France during a visit to another of his old clubs, Madras Former Pupils in St Andrews, last Thursday for a Tartan Touch evening sponsored by pizza firm Papa Johns.
His team will have to beat at least one of two of the four sides ranked above them – the top-rated Irish or the Springboks, the current world champions – to progress at the cup as they share a pool with them, along with Tonga and Romania.
That will require them to fly in the face of the form-book as they’ve not beaten Ireland since 2017, having lost eight matches since, most recently a 22-7 defeat in Edinburgh in March at this year’s Six Nations, and they’ve not got the better of the South Africans for 13 years, losing seven matches in the meanwhile, the latest by 30-15 in the capital in November 2021.
Ritchie believes his team are capable of that, though, pointing to their third-placed finish at 2023’s Six Nations, behind only Ireland and France, as a sign of progress.
“We had a pretty successful Six Nations,” he said. “Beforehand, if you had asked anyone outside the group if they would take outright third behind arguably the best two teams in the world, they probably would have said yes.
“The France game is the one that hurts the most because arguably we were the better team on the day – we just didn’t quite get it right at the start of the game and at the end.
“We need to put a full performance together, a complete performance.
“We’ve shown over the last couple of seasons that on our day, if we play our best rugby, we can beat anyone in the world and be a better team than anyone in the world.
“You saw that against New Zealand for the majority of that game. You saw that against France, when we were all over them for 60 minutes of the game.
“If we can turn that into an 80-minute performance, we are going to cause these teams who are supposedly some of the best in the world a lot of problems.”
Ritchie says he’s glad to see Gregor Townsend continuing as head coach, backed up by assistants Steve Tandy and John Dalziel, explaining: “It’s great and for us it’s another bit of continuity.
“We’re on this path where we are making constant improvement, and in my opinion it’s a good thing for that to continue.
“The coaching team around Gregor is probably one of the best in the world.
“Steve Tandy is probably the best coach I’ve ever worked with in terms of his detail. The way he’s shaped our defence has been outstanding, so I’m really glad that he’s staying on.
“JD is the guy that personally I have the most to do with, and with him and Steve you can see the gains we’ve made in those areas. They’ve had a huge part in that.”
Dundee-born Ritchie was delighted to be back at the Fife club that helped launch a sporting career yielding 41 Scotland caps so far, saying: “This is where my rugby journey started, so it’s pretty cool to be back.
“It’s a bit of a full-circle moment. When I was in primary four, I started mini-rugby here. My dad (Kerr) was the coach. My family home is five minutes away from here so it’s quite nice to be back. It’s not changed too much, which is nice.
“I definitely ran about here dreaming of playing for Scotland. I think the first time I ever met a Scotland player was probably about 20 yards from the spot we’re standing on at the moment, which is pretty cool. I’ve got a picture of it.
“It would have been the 2006 Six Nations team – they trained down here before the Six Nations. I remember them all coming down. I remember when I joined Edinburgh, I had a photo of it and showed it to Al Dickinson, because he was in it and Ross Ford was standing just next to him but was cut out of the photo. I said ‘look, do you remember this?’ and he said ‘yeah, make me feel old!’
“At the time, I was a massive Sean Lamont fan because I thought I was going to be a winger – that dream was pretty short-lived – and I was a Jason White fan too.”
Scotland are in training for their warm-up summer internationals and the world cup at the moment and it’s going well, according to Ritchie.
“Obviously we had a smaller group for the first week, so there was less 15 on 15 because we didn’t have the numbers, but it was all still rugby-based conditioning and we worked pretty hard that week,” he said.
“We’ve been straight into rugby, with a lot of unit work as well.
“We’ve been working on our lineouts and our scrums, so it’s not just been running.”
Ritchie was accompanied at last week’s touch rugby session by Edinburgh team-mate Grant Gilchrist, Glasgow Warriors players Jamie Bhatti and George Horne, another ex-Howe man, and Warriors and Scotland assistant coach Pete Horne, George’s elder brother.