Another day, another deluge. So much for Scotland acclimatising to the heat and humidity. If it carries on like this the players will have webbed feet by the time tomorrow’s game rolls around. Churchill Park in Lautoka, situated about 20 minutes up the road from the team’s base in Nadi, is reportedly the best track in the country but even it was struggling to cope.
The enduring joke that the Scots have brought their own weather with them is wearing just a little bit thin. It’s not even true. Compared to the downpour cascading from Fiji’s skies our heaviest rainfall is nothing more than mountain dew. Both sides want a dry pitch for tomorrow but neither team appears to hold much sway with the weather gods. Even the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, who was, believe it or not, staying in the same hotel as the Scottish journalists apologised for the weather.
Whatever the conditions on the day it’s a big match for all concerned. Fiji get tier one European team coming here as often as a Brit wins Wimbledon so there is an air of anticipation about the place. The papers have been full of posters advertising the match even if they do feature Gordon Ross six years after the little fly-half earned his last cap.
Scotland obviously come into the game on a high after the win against Australia but that was weather-assisted and proved little. It indicated that there is nothing wrong with the spirit in the squad, which was a concern after Rome, and it proved that the Scots can tackle themselves to a standstill in the rain, which we already knew. There are plenty of questions that remain unanswered and the main one concerns this re- jigged back line and whether it can solve Scotland’s try drought? It is manufactured with exactly that in mind, favouring skill over size in almost every position with the exception of Scotland’s newest recruit who brings a fair chunk of both commodities with him. Rather than leaving him stuck on the left flank Tim Visser will be given a roaming brief to pop up wherever and whenever he feels the urge.
Scotland will use him to punch holes in the Fijian midfield and then, just when the opposition have lined him up, Scotland will use the big Dutchman as a decoy to create a hole for someone else to exploit. If he does not finish moves himself, Visser should facilitate others to do so. He offers a nice contrast with Max Evans and Stuart Hogg in the most exciting back line Scotland have fielded since 1999. The full-back boasts straight line speed while Evans’ footwork has the beating of a man in a phone booth. Nick De Luca needs to bring his best to the party because his decision-making is vital to Scotland’s success.
“We have to put pressure on Fiji at the tackle and we have to play against Fiji with Scotland’s style not Fiji style,” said coach Andy Robinson in the build-up to this match. “If we go out there and play sevens against them we’ll get beaten.”
As always much will depend upon the Scots big men dominating the set piece and the breakdown. Control the ball and you can control the game, that will be the mantra that Robinson is hammering into his players ahead of Saturday, so the Scottish forwards need to reproduce the same set scrum that had Australia on the rack and bring a brand new lineout to Lautoka. If the Fijians win the ball and get onto the front foot their skills and speed make them horribly hard to stop but even the best teams can’t score without the ball. Of course that is easy in principle but putting it into practice on Saturday is another matter, especially if the sun shines. The Fijians have been working on their fitness, hiring a specialist coach to concentrate in conditioning, and they finished much the stronger side in that narrow loss to Samoa. The conditions helped Scotland in Newcastle, they may yet trip them up in Lautoka.
“Conditions always have an influence on the game,” said Robinson. “It’s the same for both sides. You’ve got to have strategies in place to play with tempo and have the right mind set to go out there and win the game and that’s the big thing for us is the right mindset. All the Southern Hemisphere sides come to the UK and play in different and difficult conditions and this is our next test match in different conditions to what we’re used to.”
Whether any of the Scots actually enjoy the conditions on the day is a moot point but it is also beside the point. After one win in eight outings the Scots have a job to do on Saturday and anything else is a distraction. Whatever the weather, Fiji are placed four places below Scotland in the IRB rankings, they have capped 12 players in the last two games, and at least two-thirds of their starting XV play amateur rugby on the islands. Robinson’s men must win.
A one-point victory may satisfy some but a more comfortable margin with the back line showing some teeth in attack should not be beyond Scotland provided it’s dry although that is far from certain.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Tuesday 18 June 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West