SCOTLAND coach Scott Johnson said last week that he was not one to praise players unduly and he proved that after his side’s last-gasp 30-29 win over Italy by insisting that the final tour performance was not good enough.
He praised his players for their determination to keep going to the final play of the game, but stated: “I said to the boys and I’ll keep saying that I won’t let the scoreboard dictate my life.
“Last week I was incredibly proud of the performance [in defeat to South Africa]. I thought we were the better team and didn’t get the result, but today’s performance wasn’t good. We let ourselves down in areas that we’re trying to take pride in.
“Yes, we’re battered and bruised, but the fact is that that wasn’t a good performance. I am proud of the fact that they found something in them to get themselves out of trouble and take the points, and that’s the positive, but we’re disappointed with the penalty count, the scrum, the defence, areas we’re trying to take pride in and we didn’t do well today.”
Skipper Greig Laidlaw nodded as his coach spoke, but added that the feeling among the players was perhaps slightly more ruthless in terms of the black and white of the result.
“I agree with Scott, because we talked about the bar being set last week and how we wanted to nudge it up,” he said. “But, ultimately, while we are disappointed with the performance, last week was a good performance and we got beat, and this week we got across the line, and from a players’ point of view we’re delighted to win the game.
“The goal all week was to end the tour with a win and I’m just happy that we’ve done that.”
Asked what was going through his mind when Strokosch finally went over the line, Laidlaw said: “Thank God for that! It’s weird, because I felt we weren’t going to get beat. I thought that if we could stop giving away penalties we were getting territory quite easily and the message at the end was just ‘keep the ball, keep the ball’ because they were losing numbers, and we eventually wore them down. So there was no panic.”
Even when he still had to win the game, with the final conversion, emulating the tour victory in Samoa last season?
“They’re never the best ones, especially just to the right of the posts, but once the ball was on the tee then it is all in my hands and so that was it; simple as that really.”
Johnson accepted that some of his players yesterday were carrying injuries, Johnnie Beattie nowhere near 100 per cent fit, and that a handful had only been introduced to international rugby in the past few weeks, but when asked if that mitigated against the quality of performance he remained reassuringly bullish.
“When you’re warming up for Test matches testing out blokes to see if they can take the field, it’s not the best preparation, and it’s been a tough old tour with injuries and our depth has been tested, but that is what we set out to do. We need to test our depth and this road’s going to continue for a little longer, because we want to make sure that we are on a road to a competitive squad.
“It’s been a long year and there was plenty of character and resolve to finish it off, but I’m not walking away from the fact that we have to improve areas of our game, and we can’t accept that as a standard.
“We’ll take the points and I’m sure I’m a damn sight happier than the Italian coach is right now. But we have to be honest with each other and I won’t walk away from that fact.”