SCOTLAND defence coach Matt Taylor reckons the 31-man squad announced in Edinburgh today will be packed with power and in great shape to attack this month’s Rugby World Cup with confidence.
The Australia-born former Scotland A cap was involved in the discussions that followed Saturday’s excellent 48-7 win over Italy at BT Murrayfield before head coach Vern Cotter made his final decision. Taylor believes that the squad could not have been better prepared and is in prime physical shape.
He said: “We had a really tough conditioning block and really looked at individuals to try and get an idea of where those players were at, strengthen their strengths and improve their weaknesses. If you talk to one of our main conditioners, Ashley Jones, who has been involved with New Zealand, the Wallabies, Crusaders and a number of rugby league teams, he says at the moment we are one of the strongest, fittest groups he’s been involved with.
“That has been a real target of ours and I think we have worked really hard on that. It gives me a lot of confidence and I know it gives the players a lot of confidence to hear that from someone who has worked with some elite teams around the world.
Taylor said that making Scotland a more powerful unit had been the key focus of the long training camp and added: “A lot of those players who find themselves in the 31 will be the guys who are powerful, bring really strong hits, explosiveness. Speed has been something we’ve worked hard on and a lot of our backs have got personal bests in the past two or three weeks. But I’m sure every team has been looking to do that.”
Taylor’s focus may be on the defence but he was as pleased as any Scot on Saturday to see the home side run in six tries. The former Borders and Edinburgh centre, who is also in Gregor Townsend’s coaching team at Glasgow Warriors, said Scotland are working towards honing a dynamic, attacking style.
“Yes, certainly, I think we’ve made big strides in the attacking part of our game, the shape,” said Taylor. “We’ve been working hard on our skillset in that regard and I think the combination of the squad will be those guys who can give us the best offensively. It will also come down to players who can play in different positions, doesn’t it? It’s a combination of a few things.”
The 42-year-old was happy with the performance against Italy, but said the focus on improving will remain relentless over the next two weeks.
“There were lots of positives to come out of the game,” said Taylor. “The scrum stood up well and our drive defence was a lot better than it has been in the past against Italy. Parts of our defence were good but we are under no illusions that there is still a lot of work to be done. There is a big game in France this week and the World Cup hasn’t started yet. I think the message from Vern was congratulations, enjoyable to get a win, but now we focus on the things we need to get better at and build on the things we did well.”
Taylor explained that, when naming the squad, some consideration of the type of opposition ahead had been taken into account, but clarified: “If I had to put a breakdown on it, I would say 80 per cent is all about us, what we are trying to achieve.”
The former Queensland Reds defence coach said he has been relishing the extended time with Scotland and believes working together over such a long period has been beneficial.
“It’s great for me as a defence coach to have a good block of time with the national team,” he said. “I get it with Glasgow but not often with Scotland. It’s been great that I’ve had time to get the repetition in. Last week [in Turin] we did certain things well but they exposed us at times. We took a step in the right direction this week.”