While Scotland have taken heart from many of the positive aspects of Saturday’s performance against Australia, it is clear that there has been an honest assessment this week of how another game that should have been won was allowed to slip away.
Skipper Greig Laidlaw catalogued a number of failings he feels contributed to the agony of a 23-22 defeat and said that hard work was being done to eradicate as many of them as possible ahead of Saturday evening’s second autumn Test against Argentina at BT Murrayfield.
Maintaining composure in the closing stages of games, executing a smarter kicking game and sorting out the problems at receiving restarts were all touched on by the scrum-half during his press conference at the squad’s Oriam training base in Edinburgh.
“It bothers us all,” said Laidlaw about the late slip which allowed the Wallabies to snatch a one-point win. “They were down to 14 men but I think we lost one lineout and gave away too many daft penalties at a crucial point in the game.
“A lot of the times you’re not going to run 70 metres to win a rugby game, you need field position and looking back at how we started the game, we got field position because we were able to get good field position and exit kick-offs well.
“We have to make our points count rather than invite pressure back on ourselves. That was probably our main downfall at the weekend. If you don’t have the ball, it’s extremely hard, we have to value the ball.”
Failing to secure the receiving restart has been an ongoing issue for Scotland, who too often follow up a score by letting the opposition off the hook and back into the game.
“We’ve had a look at [kick-off receipts]. It was difficult to deal with on Saturday because their kicks were right on the money and [Australia full-back Israel] Folau is probably the best in the world at taking them.
“We re-jigged our formation a little bit and try to get hold of the ball. If we score points we want to get a hold of the ball again and work out how to score more points.
“I think everyone understands that if the kick-offs are short any one is a catcher. A couple of boys maybe had the mindset that they should be set just to block but, at the weekend, kick-offs were so short that probably they should have been trying to get our hands on the ball and get it back any way we could. That certainly would have helped with field position.”
Laidlaw accepted that cooler heads were needed in situations where a narrow lead is being protected as the clock ticks down.
He said: “We did get some field position, we turned over a lineout in their 22, if we hold the ball and get any sort of points the game is won, I think.
“But we panicked a little bit, somebody played too quickly and we were smashed behind the gainline, tried to shift it but were done for blocking off the ball when we had it.
“Straightaway that relieved the pressure, Australia kicked to halfway, and they’re right back on the front foot again.
“Decisions like that in tight games go a long way to decide who is going to win them. It’s about understanding the gameplan 1 to 15 and implementing it.”
There were many aspects of the performance against the Wallabies, such as beating them 3-2 on the try count, which was extremely pleasing and Laidlaw is adamant that a similar high-level attacking game will be needed to see off the Pumas.
“Taking chances is important,” said the skipper.
“Argentina like to attack so scoring points against them and dampen their enthusiasm, stay on top of them defensively, I think we’ll be okay this weekend.”
Another bright spot was the performances of some of the less experienced members of the team, with Stormers centre Huw Jones taking the limelight on his second cap and first appearance at BT Murrayfield.
“I thought he played really well,” said Laidlaw.
“He’s been playing well back in South Africa and he’s got a good voice for Finn [Russell] inside, he helps and gives information. He runs clever lines, as we saw on the weekend.
“The first try was a good kick from Finn and a nice bounce, we’d practised that all week and it had come off all week. He had a solid all-round game, we’ve got a lot of strength at centre at the moment. Finn’s got a great skillset and gets the ball through his hands very quickly which allows us to transfer the ball to the wide channel and someone like Huw, Sean [Maitland], [Stuart] Hoggy can do something because they run good lines.
“We’re starting to see that come through and score tries now which is hugely exciting to see. It’s exciting to play on this team at the moment because we understand what we’re trying to do. We did it for a large part at the weekend but because we slipped up in just a few areas at the end we couldn’t quite see it out, so we’re cut about that.
“But the game’s gone now and we need to look forward. If we get the same energy, the same excitement added to a little more accuracy we feel we’ll get the win at the weekend.”