Winning mentality carries stuttering Scotland to victory

John Barclay, captain Henry Pyrgos and Josh Strauss chase after a loose ball. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport

John Barclay, captain Henry Pyrgos and Josh Strauss chase after a loose ball. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport

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Sometimes the better team wins. Other times it is the team with the mental steel to win only the vital moments that turn the game. This was one of the latter. Vern Cotter, the Scotland head coach, was again left relieved by the result but scratching around for anything good to say about the performance.

For the tour: two wins, a bit of time together for the team, evidence that they are growing the kind of mentality which allows them to win despite the way they are playing and not because of it. All positives. The quality of the performances in both Tests, one big negative.

“It was good to spend more time together,” said Cotter. “It was another experience. It was difficult.

“The heat, the difference in food, the jet lag. We wanted to win both Tests. We are happy we did that. Some of the content was very good. To get those two wins we needed to be tough mentally and we have got victories. That is what the players want to play for.

“We were using that as well to try and improve some things from against Ireland. We did it hard, there is no two ways about that, but we got there.”

While Cotter was careful to emphasise just how much modern rugby is a squad game, he will be a lot more worried in private that so many of the personnel changes he made backfired so spectacularly.

He was hoping to build depth and competition in the squad but in key positions, the front row being the worst, all he found out is that he really has no back-up to his regular starters.

At least there was more evidence that he has a core of players who he can rely on to carry the team. Jonny and Richie Gray didn’t get the lineout steals they wold have hoped for but were immense in defence; Greig Laidlaw demonstrated his mastery of game – and referee? – management while Stuart Hogg underlined that he is a world-class performer. He was in a mixed mood, like most of his colleagues happy with the result but frustrated by the mistakes. “It’s been really good, two wins from two,” he said.

“It wasn’t a complete performance by any means but at the end of the day we’re walking away with two wins.

“We believe we’re a lot better than that, we know we’re a lot better than that. We got the win and we’re happy with that and will enjoy our time off, but when pre-season comes around it’s about working incredibly hard to be the best rugby player you can be. Australia are next up for Scotland and that’s a massive test for us.

“The conditions were tricky. It was really humid out there, the ball was slippy so we need to adapt to things like that more quickly. So it wasn’t a complete performance but we showed a lot of guts and determination to come back to get the win. All credit to the boys, it’s a happy changing room.”

The result does at least allow the Scottish players to take the summer off in a good frame of mind before returning to club action.

“A few boys are getting married over the summer –Pat MacArthur, Tommy Seymour, Pete Horne and then myself,” Hogg said.

“I’m looking forward to spending time with the boys and getting away with the family as well. It’s been a long season and it’s now time to enjoy ourselves.”

For Hogg, it is also important that the Scottish Rugby Union should open talks soon with Vern Cotter to make sure that he stays beyond the end of his contract, now less than 12 months away. “Is massively important, he’s a great guy to work under,” Hogg said.

“He just wants the best for each individual and for us as a team and a nation. It’s great to work with him and I’m already looking forward to being back for the autumn Tests.”

For Cotter himself, his contract status is an open question. “I am just waiting to hear from them [the SRU],” he said. “I am just doing my job. If they want me to stay I guess I will have a talk with them. I could have a talk and we sit down and they tell me they don’t want me to stay.

“We will sit down and discuss what is best for Scottish rugby.”

As for the game, it was a classic backs-to-the-wall effort from Scotland who gave away a wonder try to Kaito Shigeno, the scrum-half, after a move that started five yards from the Japanese line, but seven penalties – three from Henry Pyrgos and four from his replacement Greig Laidlaw – turned out to be enough.

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