another coach might have latched on to the fact that, with almost no quality possession to speak of, Scotland still managed to score two tries against a mean-minded England defence but not Scott Johnson. He refused to “paper over the cracks”, as he put it, but he did concede that the Scottish back three will put the fear of God into any team if and when the big men can supply some ball.
It’s typical, just when Scotland can boast some finishers in the back three, the forwards have lost the ability to supply front-foot ball.
As it was the backs produced minor miracles on the sort of meagre diet that is normally the preserve of supermodels. England enjoyed 62 per cent of the possession and 69 per cent of the territory. Stuart Lancaster will still be wondering why the try count wasn’t better than 4-2.
According to his coach, Stuart Hogg enjoyed his best game in a Scotland shirt and, while Tim Visser didn’t see enough of the ball to make a big impression either way, Sean Maitland marked his impressive international debut with a try.
“Obviously it started off like a dream come true,” said the Kiwi. “Starting off my first game with a try and playing for Scotland, but the wheels sort of fell off after that. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bloody angry and disappointed.
“I was happy when I scored the try and we were leading but the backs didn’t really show what we could do today. We’ll look hard at the game tomorrow and see where we have to improve because we have a lot to prove and we can’t accept mediocrity.
“I’ve [now] played in front of 80,000 people and you don’t get that back home so the atmosphere was incredible and to be a part of that was very special. As for the game, well, the physicality is massive over here and we didn’t bring that today, we were always on the back foot.”
“It was really hard to get into the game and England looked like a Southern Hemisphere team. In the last two games England are definitely using the ball well.”
Maitland insisted that the back three have yet to show what they can do and found the afternoon “frustrating” but the Kiwi flyer still had a hand in both of Scotland’s scores. In the first half he benefited from Hogg’s surgical strike, even if he admitted later that he was asking for the ball a little earlier than he got it.
“Yeah, I was screaming at little Hoggy but everything out there was happening at 100 miles an hour. A draw and pass could have been an easy try but I was glad that Greig [Laidlaw] had my back.” The scrum-half eventually supplied the scoring pass.
In the second half, Maitland returned the favour after Scotland won a rare turnover inside their own 22 and went on the charge. It looked for a moment as if David Denton had wasted the opportunity by failing to off-load but Maitland eventually got the ball and, as he was being hunted down by Chris Ashton, he kicked long. Was there at least the suggestion that his opposite number deliberately impeded the Kiwi’s kick-chase?
“I think it was pretty illegal what Ashton did,” he admitted, “but I don’t know. These things are best left on the field.” Not that it mattered since Hogg beat Andy Goode to the ball.
Maitland revealed that his father and the rest of the family stayed up late in New Zealand to catch his game on television. However his uncle and aunt had flown up from Johnanesburg to support the flying winger on his debut. Might his folks make it over for one of the Murrayfield matches?
“I might have to dig the fluff out of my pockets and shout [fly] them over,” replied the winger.
With the focus now on next weekend, the Italy match is growing in importance. “We’ll look at the game and we’ll look at the things that we need to work on,” said Maitland. “Because there are a lot of things we need to work on, let’s be honest. We have to be switched on every day and prepare well [for Italy] and if you prepare well you get a lot of confidence out of that and that’s what we need.”
Confidence and some quality possession, so that Scotland’s quick men can show their stuff.
n Scotland also lost out to England 31-7 in the quarter-finals of the New Zealand Sevens in Wellington early yesterday.
The defeat, after group wins over Fiji and Portugal and a loss to Australia, meant Scotland dropped into the semi-final of the Plate competition, where they returned to form with a 35-5 win over Argentina thanks to five converted tries from Mark Robertson, Scott Riddell, Russell Weir, Michael Fedo and James Fleming.
They met group opponents Australia again in the final and a single James Johnstone try was not enough as a very strong and physical Wallabies side triumphed 22-7.