IF THE 2013 Autumn Test series is to mean anything tangible, the players and coaches have to take key lessons from the past three weeks.
What they will take from the win over Japan should be less than the education delivered in being run off the park by South Africa and allowed to play, but always at arm’s length, by the Wallabies, but there are lessons in them all, particularly for a host of young Scots still finding their feet in the international game.
They now return to their clubs for the bread and butter business of league and Heineken Cup rugby and, at the back of their minds, the looming prospect of making the starting squad for the next international against Ireland in Dublin at the beginning of February.
David Denton, who played all three Autumn Tests at No 8, and showed himself to be one of Scotland’s most consistent performers, says the biggest lesson is the need to provide quick ball at the breakdown and to be clinical when it comes to taking chances.
“There was a little bit of naivety and that makes it frustrating,” he said, reflecting on the final encounter. “It was a game we should have won but we played too much rugby in our own half and you can’t do that.
“I think we are moving in the right direction. In the Six Nations, it will be more about winning, and more about getting our strongest team out, and there is a long-term plan for us building up to the World Cup.
“But the most important thing for us is the breakdown. If we can get quick, solid ball then we will be a team to be reckoned with. We have got some potent attacking threat if we get the quick ball. But have to learn from this. I don’t want to be in a position of saying the same things the next time we play these teams.”
There was a genuine frustration in his voice as he spoke, and it was shared by other players after Saturday’s defeat. Fast-track learning is a priority for Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson, Glasgow Warriors team-mates who are going toe to toe in the competition for ownership of the No 10 jersey.
Jackson started the first two Tests and Weir got the nod to face Australia. Who wins selection in February is likely to depend on who shines most over the winter months, and who perhaps adds most to his game.
“Me and Jacko are learning very quickly the job we need to do,” Weir said. “You need to learn fast because that is the nature of things within the squad. We created chances today and it was fine margins in international rugby that meant we didn’t get a home victory but let the game slip by six points. I think I have shown I am not just a kicking stand-off. I don’t want that tag. I feel more comfortable taking the ball flat, dropping people off.”
Montpellier lock Jim Hamilton led Scotland on to the pitch with his son JJ to make his 50th cap and, for all his lengthy experience, says he is riding the learning curve as well.
“There’s no doubt that that was a game we could have won if we had been more clinical,” the 31-year-old said. “Give these southern hemisphere teams one opportunity and they score and that is what we have to do.
“There are positives to take out of the game but we need to be harsh on ourselves as a group. I said last week that I want to win things and if we are going to win the Six Nations we need to be clinical. We don’t want to just be a team that is difficult to beat; we want to be a team that beats these sides.”
Sean Lamont, Scotland’s most experienced player now with 82 caps, came within inches of crossing the Australian line and probably confirmed his claim to a winger’s jersey. He said: “It was a better performance than last weekend but it was the same story – little inaccuracies and a couple of soft tries cost us. Our defence was pretty good 99 per cent of the time but that one per cent is the soft scores. That’s the difference when you play the top teams.
“But it felt a damn sight better. We were a damn sight more aggressive and took it to them and, bar a couple of penalties here and there and a couple of soft tries, that was one for the taking.”