IT WAS just as well there was one calm head out on the pitch as Scotland’s game against Argentina boiled up into a frenzied finish. One big mistake and it could have all been over for the Scots.
That’s where a captain earns his stripes. He has to be the one thinking, not just about the nitty gritty of the next phase but the overall tactical position. So step forward Grant Gilchrist and take a bow, you may be only 23 and leading the team for the first time in only your seventh international but when it really mattered you kept the team motivated and you made the right decisions.
His first decision-making test arrived 71 minutes into the game. Scotland were trailing by nine points when they won a long-range but kickable penalty. Go for the posts? Go for the try? For half a second it looked as though the Scots were going to go for touch and a maul, but Gilchrist was adamant: the posts.
“We had had one go in the corner but they had sacked that maul and I thought ‘let’s just consolidate, get within seven points, that is the key’. If you’re within seven, you’ve always got a chance, that was my thought process on the pitch,” he said later.
Right call. Then, though it took Duncan Weir two goes at winning the match after Henry Pyrgos had scored off Tommy Seymour’s break, he did deliver the points for his captain when it really mattered.
Not that Gilchrist was getting carried away by the result or the performance. “It was not a magnificent performance on the whole but there are areas we are happy with and areas we need to improve for next week,” he said. “That last ten minutes, though, we can be really proud of: the heart, the spirit and the belief.
“A lot of teams would have rolled over at 19-10 or even at 19-18 and lost the game by a point to accept being unlucky losers. I have been involved in a lot of teams that would have done that in the past and I am really proud of the guys and we got our reward.
“I was just saying ‘keep believing’. I think it was a scrum that was the turning point. We pushed them off their ball and got three points to put us within seven and then great individual play and a great score took us right back into it. Then we had to score again but our forwards really stepped up and we managed to get the penalty from the driving maul. I am really proud.”
It was something of a rescue act, but 11 points in the final nine minutes does tell the tale of a team that is not going to give up, that has got the spirit and determination to make sure they are there at the end. That is a start, but it is not going to be enough when Scotland face South Africa on Saturday, as Vern Cotter, the head coach, was quick to point out.
“We have got to start believing and moving forward. We know next week is going to be very tough,” the New Zealander said. “I think we constructed and produced more play in this game [compared to the earlier tour matches against the USA and Canada]. I am glad we believed enough to keep the ball and come back from 19-10 and score the necessary points to come away with a win.
“I’m really happy to just see players find space and be able to vary our play and score tries. It is not perfect, we know exactly that. We found ourselves in a couple of situations five metres from their line and got turned over and did not score so we need to work on our work together. It was a positive result.”
What was important was that under Gilchrist’s leadership, nobody panicked. They made the tactical adjustments, one after the break, when they shifted to a more tactical territorial game, another just before stand-off Weir helped launch the comeback.
“There was personal composure and team composure,” Cotter said. “There was team composure when we needed to come back and there was team composure later in the defence – we were defending at the end of the game and I saw real desire to come up and keep a calm state of mind to stop them from scoring. There were positive things in attack and defence but we will keep our feet on the ground. We will have a good look at it. We will get on a plane with four flights to South Africa and we will have a good look at this game and digest what we see.
“We have to keep building on the good things. We will tidy up a few things that we need to tidy up and obviously against South Africa we are going to have to be there physically because they are a very physical team.
“This will be our fourth game on tour and we have a long set of flights but the first thing is to match their physicality, and that is going to be a challenge in itself. Everyone talks about patience. We need to build our game, just doing the simple things well and setting simple objectives and trying to create confidence from there.”
Patience and composure and a youngster who embodies both. It was a useful learning exercise for everybody, including Gilchrist and Cotter.