SCOTLAND lost their sixth Test in a row to the Welsh, and their tenth defeat in the last 11 meetings between the sides, and to add injury to insult they also lost Richie Gray for the trip to Paris this weekend, with the fear also being that his chances of making the Lions squad are now in considerable jeopardy after he was stretchered off half an hour into this dire war of attrition, writes Tom English.
“Richie is in a pretty bad way,” said Scott Johnson of the hamstring injury that caused a long delay as the lock was treated and then removed from the pitch. “We’re not sure of the depth of it [the tear to his hamstring]. He’ll play again this season but it will be a significant time away from the game.”
As of now, Gray is competing against the clock and it doesn’t look good. One of Scotland’s expected bankers for the Lions tour is in major trouble.
Johnson spoke euphemistically of a lack of “spectacle” on the day and didn’t sugarcoat the failure. “We had two competitive sides and the game could have gone either way,” he said. “The frustrating part is that we got to play off nothing. We let ourselves down and they made the most of their opportunities. We’ve got to look at ourselves. We can try and find excuses about why the game didn’t go our way but I’d rather work on the facts and how we can change. We can’t play Test rugby like that. We don’t want to.”
The lack of a decent set-piece platform did Johnson’s head in. “It’s simple mathematics. We have shown we can play with the best of them, we can cross the line. The fact is that this inability to play off a platform is stopping us. We had a scrum right before half time. A perfect platform to play off. What happens? We finish up 60 metres back down the track. You can talk about try-scoring, but that’s ending. Let’s talk about what’s causing it.
“When you score most of your tries off set-pieces and we’re not getting any…We’re letting ourselves down. We’re putting ourselves under pressure all the time. We’re always under the cosh. What we’re showing is great resolve. We’re defending like madmen, we’re having a crack, we’re doing all those things. It would be nice to just play a bit.”
Johnson spoke about the infuriating mess that was scrum-time. “The most frustrating part for us is that I think we have a world class front row. We have. I’m not here to discuss the referee because he has a job to do and he seems like a decent bloke. I don’t want to be a guy who talks about the ref.
“But we have quality players in our scrum, we have quality scrummaging locks and we scrum square and we try to teach that. We didn’t try any tricks. We’re adamant that’s the case. We’ve got a really good scrum and we’re getting nothing from it. Nothing. And we haven’t for three weeks.”
Johnson said that Craig Joubert, the referee, had an odd day at the office given that, statistically, the South African, of his peers, awards the least amount of penalties for scrum infringements. Yesterday, he never stopped giving them.
“What we’re struggling with is that set means go, when you finish the word set you go and some sides are getting half cute here and they’re not actually going at all. It’s an illusion that we’re going early when the other mob are not going. We don’t coach that, but we’ve been caught with our pants down a few times with that.”
There was praise from the Scotland coach for the colossal Sam Warburton and his deputy in destruction, Justin Tipuric, who made a big contribution off the bench. “Sam is a wonderful player and wonderfully hard on the ball,” said Johnson. “When you bring Tips on you’ve got two world-class scavengers. There’s no shame sometimes to lose when you’ve got quality against you. Two good lads.”