ALESANA Tuilagi cuts a powerful figure even among his Samoan brethren, so it was not a great surprise when Scotland’s six-foot stand-off Peter Horne was steamrollered to the turf by the former Leicester winger on Saturday.
Horne was far from the only culprit in a decidedly poor defensive display by Scotland at King’s Park, but his poor tackling technique against the Samoan – they are actually similar in height but there is a four-stone weight difference – opened the door to what was the match-winning try in the second half.
To compound matters, Horne missed a great opportunity in the dying minutes of the game to exploit an overlap to his left with the Samoan defence pulled to his right. It was late but a converted try then would have pulled Scotland back to within three points and a potential draw.
But no-one needs to tell Horne where he went wrong on what was his Test debut. One viewing of the video after Saturday’s game and the popular product of Howe of Fife RFC was holding his head in his hands and thumping the floor.
He was little better before training yesterday. When asked for his thoughts on the game. “I was really disappointed with the way it went,” he said, with some understatement. “I was so excited before the game and desperate to get on the field, and it was just a shame I didn’t really take my chance.
“I missed that tackle on Tuilagi but defence is something I normally pride myself on.
“I have never had an issue with it in the past so I will be making sure I work hard this week to get back to my best. It was my fault completely. I should have got right up in his face. “Normally, I would be diving in, but I sat off a bit, there was a bit of indecision and I let him run 20 metres at me. When it got to that point physics took over and, unfortunately, I got sat on my arse. I will definitely learn from it and become better for it.
“I didn’t have my best game, my finest performance but I’ll be hoping to get another shot and make sure I improve on that.
“When that happens, you just have to work out what was wrong, where you let yourself down and then go away and work harder to make sure you don’t make the mistake again.
“That’s what I’ve been doing this week and will continue to do.”
Watching training yesterday provided a glimpse of that. No other player put in as many tackles as Horne during yesterday’s defence session. He ran around a boxed area seeking opportunities to hit big-striding forwards Tim Swinson, David Denton, Jim Hamilton and others and, each time, they went to ground.
Horne has a huge heart and can rarely be faulted for effort but he is acutely aware that what he produces in training counts for nothing at Test level. One 80-minute picture is all that supporters recall and, likely to line up back in his familiar centre berth this week, he is determined to right the perception of him pretty quickly. “This is something I have been desperate to do since I was a kid. Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do, I said I wanted to be a professional rugby player and play for Scotland.
“After Saturday’s match, I was very upset. It was not the ideal first cap but one bad game doesn’t make you a bad player. One bad game doesn’t make us a bad team. We know we can be better and now we have to prove that.
“I’m in a good place at the moment, coming off the back of a good season with Glasgow, so I’m just really excited about moving forward and, hopefully, getting another chance.”
Horne has a naturally bubbly personality, one that is very self-critical but full of effervescence, and he has been learning much from Warriors coach Gregor Townsend this season. Test rugby is an unforgiving environment, and that may be the greatest lesson and point of inspiration for Horne and other newcomers to emerge from this tour.
• SOUTH Africa scrum-half Francois Hougaard and loose forward Francois Louw will miss Saturday’s Test against Scotland in Nelspruit, the South African Rugby Union said in a statement yesterday.
Hougaard aggravated an old knee injury in training on Monday and has been replaced in the squad by Stormers scrum-half Louis Schreuder, while Louw has reluctantly accepted leave to prepare for his wedding on Sunday.
Flank Louw had been keen to play the Scotland Test but coach Heyneke Meyer wanted him to focus on his nuptials instead.
News of Hougaard’s absence comes a day after Cheetahs No9 Piet van Zyl was drafted into the squad to replace the injured Jano Vermaak, testing the Springboks’ depth in the half-back position.