SCOTLAND’S new forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys believes he has much work ahead to cultivate a more skilled approach to the crucial breakdown area in Scottish rugby, but is eager to see the character of his touring squad against the Springboks on Saturday.
Humphreys was brought north from the Ospreys, the former Wales hooker having impressed Scott Johnson at the Welsh region. The SRU could have opted for Scottish contenders, such as new Worcester coach Carl Hogg or interim Edinburgh coach Stevie Scott to drill the national forwards, but a key reason for plumping for Humphreys was Johnson’s belief that he could build on the work of Dean Ryan through the recent Six Nations and create a more potent force in the tackle, which has become Scotland’s area of weakness. Humphreys admitted the team fell well below the standards he believes they are capable of in defeat to Samoa in Durban, but is confident of a significantly improved display against the Boks this weekend.
“I was not embarrassed by that [Saturday’s performance],” he said. “My remit was to come and look and understand. I need to understand the players and that is a one-off snapshot. Obviously, we are disappointed with how that game went, but sometimes the measure of a person is how they bounce back. I will be really interested to see what the character of the squad is.
“The contact area is a fair amount about mindset, and having a system in place that everyone understands. It is a new group of players. Were we good in the contact area? No, we weren’t. Do we have to become extremely good? Yes, that is where we need to find the players who will do what we want. There is no point in giving rockets every two or three games, what does that do? We need to find the people who will do what we want them to do.
“The days of people sitting down and giving speeches about how people sacrifice lives on battlefields and all that, only gives you so much. It is about people who within them have the character you want. There are people on this tour who have those characteristics. Once you get those in place you get confrontation. We came out here with something in mind to make sure the players play. We are not giving caps away, nothing like that, but we have to make sure we find out what people are about. We are not bringing people on tour to still have questions about them when we go back. These people are coming into a high-intensity game on the back of a disappointing performance. We need to find out what they are about and selection will reflect that.”
More immediately, his concern is what kind of pack he can name when the team is finally confirmed tomorrow. With Geoff Cross and Pat MacArthur on their way home, Euan Murray is nursing a hamstring injury, Kelly Brown an ankle knock and Johnnie Beattie a shoulder problem. “We are down to the bare bones, but you go back to what the tour is about – finding out what we have got,” said Humphreys. “Sometimes in adversity you have to push yourself, hopefully at the end of it you find you have got something. A lot of those boys are going to get scanned and assessed later today.”
He accepted that the lack of game-time for players may have created a bit of rustiness – the Samoans having come fresh from Super Rugby and French league games – but refused to countenance excuses. “A lot of boys have not played for a little period of time, since the end of last season, and it all adds up,” he acknowledged. “The Samoans are a pretty physical bunch, as the South Africans will be at the weekend. There were certainly a few people off it, but in the second half we were considerably better than we were in the first 15 to 20 minutes and we’d hope to be better again with a game under our belts. But there are no excuses. Were we good enough on Saturday? No. Are we good enough to have won that game? Yes, we were. Take away that first ten minutes when we were extremely sloppy and let them in for two easy tries – in any level you can’t do that.”