A TASK that already boasted Himalayas proportions suddenly got even more daunting after Scotland’s lost not one but two key tight five forwards for the quarter-final clash against the Wallabies.
There was a feeling of genuine anger, amongst the journalists if no one else, that justice had simply not been done. If Jonny Gray was unwise to lift Jack Lam’s legs at the breakdown, Ross Ford was operating within the letter, the spirit and the totality of a law that has been interpreted in umpteen different ways throughout this tournament.
One impotent onlooker even suggested that Sepp Blatter must have control of a disciplinary process in which the sanction for a tip tackle can vary from a ticking off to a three-week ban which, since he will be 35 when the 2019 World Cup takes place, has, in all probability, ended Ford’s World Cup career on a distinctly sour note.
If the players are angry about the decision, they are trying to keep a lid on emotions that may not be entirely helpful and instead focus on the biggest game of their lives – as Tim Swinson argued yesterday.
“It’s obviously unfortunate for Jonny and Fordy,” said the man most likely to replace Gray Jnr in the Scotland second row. “It’s quite a big thing for them to take, this must be one of the biggest games of their careers, but, as a squad, we’ve got to move on and focus on the game at the weekend.
“I’m really quite disappointed for the guys. Like I just said we’ve got a big game at the weekend and its obviously something they would like to be involved in. It’s quite hard for them to deal with it.”
It’s a bitter pill for any Scot to swallow, even if Swinson has the potential compensation of a starting spot on Sunday to ease his pain. The only other viable option open to Cotter is to shuffle David Denton from the third to the second row of the scrum and, while having a one big mobile unit replace another isn’t the worst idea in the world, the man himself looks like he’d rather boil in oil than do a shift in Scotland’s boiler house.
“Yeah, I might be playing second row. I’m going to go and get my ears taped up, just in case!” joked the No 8.
“Look, it was a conversation we had when Grant Gilchrist picked up his injury. I had a conversation with Vern and he said that might be a possibility, that I might need to cover the second row. If I have to, I’ll do what I need to do for the team. I’ve actually played there quite a lot for Edinburgh because it was the season before last when we had just an unbelievable injury crisis in the second row, which I wasn’t thankful for, I can tell you!
“I was thrust in there for six or so games in a row. It’s a different experience, put it that way. It’s a lot harder to get around the park from that position. But it’s interesting. You have to play rugby in a different way so, from that perspective, it can be quite fun.”
But didn’t he swear at the time that wild horses couldn’t drag him back into the second row?
“That might have been the hope,” he replies with a laugh. “No, it wasn’t my favourite. I would much prefer to be playing at number eight, it’s easier to get into the game in that position, that’s my position. But the nature of this competition is you’ve only got a certain number of players. When you get to the tail end of the competition and you’ve got niggles, you’ve got citings, people need to be flexible.”
At one point someone pointed out that forwards coach Nathan Hines was sporting a pair of boots and speculatiown centred upon whether the former Scotland lock might like to don them in anger against the land of his birth however far fetched that may be.
As for a process that seems to hand Scotland the rough end of the disciplinary stick, Denton echoed Swinson in looking forwards rather than picking that particular scab.
“I guess sometimes it does feel like that,” he replied when asked if Scotland got little enough leeway from judge and juries?
“But we can’t be sitting here feeling sorry for ourselves. We’ve got a huge match to win on the weekend. So we have to deal with it, park it to one side and move on.”
The Zimbabwe-born breakaway is one of life’s optimists and he insisted that, for all their disciplinary woes, the Scots are still in this competition and, despite finding themselves 11-1 underdogs, they are quietly confident that they can challenge and beat the form team of the tournament.
“I think it’s kind of a myth that the Australian rugby team isn’t physical,” he stated. “They are a physical team and we can expect them to come at us. They are going to look to play rugby, yes, but rugby matches are won up front, in the trenches, if you like. We’ve got to win that physical battle and I think we can.”
But you suspect that anything short of a crowbar is going to struggle to lever David Pocock or Michael Hooper off the ball once the twin Wallaby limpets have latched onto it at the breakdown?
“There is a way, get there before them!” Denton declared, although that might prove tricky if the big breakaway is stuck in the second row of the Scotland scrum.