IF SCOTLAND head coach Vern Cotter and captain Greig Laidlaw had sat down in front of the assembled media and announced that their dog had died they could hardly have looked more miserable. The pair are well suited to each other, neither is what you’d label demonstrative and while the Kiwi has lived and worked in Italy, little of that nation’s garrulous nature has rubbed off on him.
Neither man looked like celebrating Scotland’s second win of the autumn. Goodness only knows what they would have looked like had the home team lost.
Happily that never looked likely, at least once the Scots had negotiated a tricky first half which the Tongans probably edged on the field, even if the Scots were ahead by a short nose on the scoreboard.
“It was a hard game, very tough,” said Cotter. “They put a lot of pressure at ruck time and the penalties seemed to be going against us. The players simplified things in the second half, held on to the ball a bit more, tried to do simple things well and work hard and they finally managed to get on top.
“It’s not perfect. It’s very hard to construct rugby against a team that plays as physically as they do but I thought we kept our composure and it improved as the game went on and I think we can build some confidence from that.”
Pacific Island sides are not noted for their discipline but the Scots outdid their guests in that department. The home side conceded nine penalties, an entire match’s worth, in the first half alone and Tongan stand-off Latiume Fosita kicked four of them to give his side an early lead.
“It was a tough first half,” said Laidlaw. “There were a few tight calls in there, maybe a couple of harsh ones along the way. It was always going to be tight for a long part of the game. Tonga are a good outfit and they showed that in the first half.
“We said at half time, we’ve been under some pressure but we’re still ahead. Let’s just go and hold the ball in the second half and that’s what we did and scored some nice tries.”
The Tongans had their own “what if” moment, a chance to regain the lead three minutes into the second half, but Fosita fluffed his kick and the Scots grew in confidence from that moment on. The final quarter was something of a rout.
This squad ran in five tries against both Argentina and Tonga while recording their narrowest defeat to New Zealand for several decades, so how are the Scots placed moving towards next year’s Six Nations Championships?
“In a position to take the things we did well forward and improve them,” Cotter replied. “It gives us an opportunity to spend some time developing individual skill-sets that will give the team more possibilities to vary our play. Guys will go back to their clubs but they will go back with aims and objectives and I am sure they will look forward to coming back again later on. The key thing for me is, this is great but where do we move to next?”
The answer to that question will only arrive on 7 February, 2015 when the Scots open their account in Paris. They haven’t won there since 1999 but, after two victories and 11 tries, this squad of players will travel with growing confidence.