FRUSTRATION was writ large on the face of Scotland head coach Andy Robinson after Saturday’s 21-10 defeat to South Africa as he strove to understand why key players deviated from a fairly simple gameplan.
If Heyneke Meyer thinks being the Springbok coach is tough, he should think about his counterpart. After a defensive horror show ruined good work against the All Blacks, Robinson watched in bewilderment on Saturday as his side slipped off key tenets of his gameplan – to tackle low and resist penalties in the first half. They then, however, produced a display in the last half-hour he had expected from the start.
“The last 30 minutes was very pleasing,” he said, “but what happened in those first 50 minutes was hugely frustrating.
“We went into the game with a plan and obviously it wasn’t effective enough. Last week we were facing speed and this week it was physicality and it showed the gulf of where we are. We have to make sure we learn the lessons, that we can’t afford to give penalties away in the way that we did. We gave them field position to build their maul [for the try] and everybody in the dressing room was pretty disappointed in how we played.
“[In the second half] we didn’t give penalties away and our defence was on the front foot, whereas in the first half we allowed South Africa to get momentum through tackling high.
“When we tackled low [in second half] we stopped their momentum and controlled the territory because we played inside their half. In the first half, we couldn’t find any territory because we gave simple penalties away and tackled high and allowed them to get momentum.
“So South Africa gave us a masterclass in how to dominate territory and take the sting out of a side.”
Captain Kelly Brown was similarly baffled as to why players failed to execute the plan. The answer is the same as for why players opted for choices in attack such as chip-kicks in the South African 22 late on – pressure, this time from a powerful Springbok defence, which is the great intangible that makes sport unpredictable.
Lock Alastair Kellock commented: “You have to credit South Africa for the way they controlled the game exceptionally well in the first half but the tries we conceded were disappointing as they gave them the cushion they needed at the end. We still had chances to score and go on to win in the last quarter and didn’t take them.
“The positive for me is that our last two defeats were so different, in my opinion, that I don’t feel that we’re stuck in a rut.
“We should have made more of our possession and territory against South Africa. Last week we did [against the All Blacks], we scored three tries, but we didn’t defend well enough.
“I still feel we are in a very good place. You look at some of the young guys coming through, the way David Denton carries the ball is something special, Hoggy at full-back is coming through, and, for a guy of the age of Henry [Pyrgos] with one cap, to come on and control the game the way he did shows the quality he has got.
“Now we have to take all these lessons into this last Test against Tonga.”