Scotland’s weaknesses exposed with ‘brutal clarity’

Winning captain Paul O'Connell is presented with the quaich. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Winning captain Paul O'Connell is presented with the quaich. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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IF SCOTLAND didn’t know the size of the task facing them ahead of this match they do now after Ireland gave them a lesson is no-nonsense, frill-free, ruthless rugby. The truth is that Scotland don’t have the players to compete, at least not unless every man jack of them is fighting fit.

It felt almost cruel in the circumstances but one brave journalist reminded the Scotland coach about SRU boss Mark Dodson’s unfortunate comment re winning the World Cup when the team has failed to win a single game throughout the Six Nations.

“I think we’ve got to address a fair few things in our game before we make ourselves a true threat,” replied a suitably chastened Vern Cotter. “But that’s something that will be addressed earnestly, right from the start.

“There were encouraging individual performances during the Six Nations but we need a mindset change and we’ll have to work towards that and become more efficient. There were a lot of things that quite genuinely I think can be worked on quite quickly.”

The sheet of statistics made for familiar if uncomfortable reading. Once again the Scots fell off too many tackles, 25 missed in all, which may indicate a physical mis-match.

The Scots were again undone by indiscipline, with Geoff Cross’s yellow card meaning that only at Twickenham did Cotter’s team manage to keep all 15 men on the field for the full 80 minutes and they conceded twice as many penalties as Ireland did yesterday.

The official turnover figures had Scotland conceding 12 (to three from Ireland) but Cotter mentioned a figure of 24, which certainly felt more accurate. It is just one area in a whole raft of changes that Scotland must make, some physical, some technical and other on a psychological scale.

“I knew this press conference wasn’t going to be pleasant,” said Cotter when confronted by the facts. “It’s a competition where you need to develop confidence by winning matches early on.

“I think two narrow defeats and then a shift in momentum and then we got exposed today with a very good team in front of us.

“We concede far too many turnovers and we only had 30 per cent possession in the second half and it was always going to be difficult with those stats.

“We’d like to think that we can play the way we played for longer periods in the future and get a mind-set. Our mind-set has to be to win games, not let teams get in front and play catch-up rugby, we have to take silly errors out of our game – going into touch. We have to learn to keep the ball and apply pressure. These are things that were brought home with brutal clarity today.”

The Scots will lick their wounds and look to get some key players – Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist and possibly even Alex Dunbar – back in to boost the squad ahead of the World Cup. Cotter revealed that he hadn’t given up on the classy centre playing his part in the big one, which would be a massive boost to a young and inexperienced backline. Dunbar adds some some real firepower, although Scotland’s issues don’t centre on ammunition but rather more basic tightening up of the nuts and bolts of the whole operation.

Did Cotter know what he was letting himself in for when he signed up with Scotland?

“We know that we don’t have a large number of players,” replied the Kiwi coach. “We are what we are and who we are. There are things within that we can improve on. We know that we can’t get a lot of injuries. We don’t have a lot of depth in some positions.

“I knew it was going to be tough but these are good guys to work with. I just wish we could have got a shift a little bit sooner.”

How much sooner? Cotter now has just six months to hone these same players into a cohesive and competitive animal come September’s World Cup. It isn’t going to get any easier.