JUST a few short weeks ago, pundits were wondering out loud exactly where Scotland’s next win was coming from. Two victories later and everyone expects this squad to beat Samoa at home with something to spare, despite the sweltering conditions and the fact that the island nation is ranked above Scotland on the IRB ladder.
There is a lack of reason, perspective and balance – we have become Welsh overnight.
On the positive side of the ledger, the Scottish players have returned to wherever it was they deposited their fighting spirit around about half-time in the Six Nations match against Ireland and they have made a sizeable withdrawal.
The team was at its cussed best in the win over the Wallabies and it needed to be. Without that victory to bolster their souls, Andy Robinson’s men might very well have become unstuck against Fiji. Instead they hit back to record a respectable win. Saturday will be a lot harder.
Scotland’s lack of depth continues to be an issue because there remain nagging doubts over the fitness of Euan Murray and Al Strokosch, although both men will take their places in the starting XV. These two have been key figures in the last two wins and Scotland need their aggression to counter the same stuff that will be coming their way in spades.
The Scots are a little lightweight in the backline, although Chris Cusiter and Sean Lamont’s inclusion at scrum-half and right wing at the expense of Mike Blair and Max Evans goes some way to redressing the balance.
Samoa will still throw bodies at the slighter backs because, the longer the match against Fiji progressed, the more the Scots fell off their tackles. Indeed Samoa will watch the second half from Lautoka and rub their hands with glee because Scotland couldn’t hold on to the ball for long enough to get their breath. If that happens on Saturday they will be run ragged.
In short, Robinson’s men need to bring their first half against Fiji for the full 80 minutes. The scrum needs to gain the whip hand, although that is no given with the size of the Samoan pack and the injuries (shoulder and knee) to Robinson’s first choice props (Ryan Grant and Murray).
The lineout needs to dominate the opposition throw and, with Richie Vernon adding further expertise, it should.
Finally, the restarts need to be better. These have been the bane of Robinson’s existence as Scotland coach. Argentina scored from one lost restart in the World Cup, as did England, and Fiji won their own restart last weekend.
If training is anything to go by, Samoa will have a field day here. Running against the substitutes, the Test XV collected cleanly perhaps one in five kick-offs that the reserves sent their way.
But Scotland have advantages of their own, if only they can exploit them. The inclusion of a specialist ball-carrying number eight in Vernon, who will take the game to the Samoans, can only be a good thing and his blistering pace may yet catch the islanders on the hop on what is sure to be a hard track. It’s a big opportunity for the Sale Shark, who must be smarting after being overlooked for the first two Tests.
The Scots are battle hardened after two tough Tests and they are playing against at least some opponents who are unaccustomed to the intensity of a tier one Test. The Scots should be well organised in defence and as acclimatised to the scorching heat as they ever will be.
The tourists enjoy a huge height advantage, not just at the sidelines but also on the flanks, with Sean Lamont towering over David Lemi. Greig Laidlaw is also better off the tee than anyone on the Samoan side.
Nick De Luca looks a different player from the careworn ghost which haunted the Six Nations squad and any team boasting Tim Visser in their ranks can score tries.
Chris Cusiter will enjoy a lively battle with Kahn Fotoali’i at scrum-half and, while they shouldn’t rely upon this, there is one more aspect in Scotland’s favour – the self-destructive streak that is never far from the surface of Samoan rugby.
It cost them in the World Cup when they were threatening a famous win over South Africa and ill-discipline could come back to haunt them against Scotland.
Against that, the Scots have their own Achilles heel. Might the tourists, even subconsciously, think that they have already done better than many expected ahead of this tour and lift their foot fractionally off the pedal?
“No. You always want to be the first to do things,” says captain Ross Ford with a nod to becoming the first Scotland squad to return home from the Southern Hemisphere with three Test wins.
“Johno (backs coach Scott Johnston) came up with an expression: ‘No rocks under the beach towels’. He meant that when we go away from the tour we’ve to have nothing irking us, nothing at the back of our minds bugging us while we’re on our holidays.
“We’re still here to do a job, we’re still here working and that continues until the final whistle.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 12 C to 20 C
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