Six Nations: Scots to focus on clinical finishing

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DESPITE having lost their opening two matches in this year’s Six Nations Championship, Scotland are determined to 
remain in a positive mood as they look ahead to their home game against Italy at the end of the month.

The pressure will be on Vern Cotter’s squad to win that game on Saturday 28th, but flanker Rob Harley insisted that morale remained high despite the 26-23 defeat by the Welsh two days ago and the 15-8 loss to France which preceded it in the first round of fixtures. “We’ve had two defeats but by small margins, so we can look at the reasons why we lost,” the Glasgow Warriors flanker said. “But we also have to take the positives out of some of the ways we attacked: the pressure we put on in the driving maul and when we got going in the finish zone we were ramping up the pressure and really squeezing them on the line. If that’s something we can maintain for an 80-minute performance then we’re going to challenge any team in the world.

Rob Harley insists belief is still strong. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Rob Harley insists belief is still strong. Picture: Ian Rutherford

“I think most of the guys in the squad would want to go out right now [to play Italy] if we had the option.

“In some ways the two-week break will be good as we have a few injuries, so we’ll get the bodies healed up, we’ll do analysis of the Wales match, and we’ll look at Italy and being properly 
prepared. We’ll use the two weeks, get everything out of those two weeks, so that come the Italy game then we’re fully prepared.

“I think there’s going to be a massive expectation on the Italy match. We’ve not got the results we wanted from the first two games, so it puts pressure on us for the third match, but the advantage for us will be coming to BT Murrayfield in front of our home crowd and using that to lift us against Italy. Hopefully, that will give us the advantage.”

It was failure to convert pressure into tries until it was too late in the second half that cost Scotland victory against Wales, but Harley insisted the team still believed they are on the right track and will keep improving. “I think it’s something that will come if we get everything right. We had a lot of time in their 22, so if we’re spending a lot of time in there and playing the Scottish way, getting quick ball and challenging defences, then we’re going to get points.

“Some of the play from deep was excellent – Mark Bennett’s disallowed try came from a long way back, Stuart Hogg’s try too – so we’ve shown we can score from anywhere in the park. We have to be more clinical when we get those chances to attack again near the line.”

Scotland conceded fewer penalties than Wales, but they still committed one more such offence than they did against France – 13 compared to 12 in Paris. Discipline therefore remains an issue, although Harley suggested it was not always a simple matter knowing whether a certain action would be penalised by a certain referee.

“I think sometimes that can be a kind of natural variation in the game, how a referee interprets in different ways,” he argued.

“I think it’s something we’ll work on during the week, on the technique of being legal, of when you make a tackle how you’re rolling out so that you’re not giving referees the option of giving penalties.

“There are technical things you can do to avoid giving away penalties.

“It’s just a reality of the game that the way the ruck is, there’s no black and white over whether to award a penalty to the attack or to the defence. It’s something where it’s very fine margins and sometimes you can be on the right end of that and sometimes you’re on the wrong end.

“It’s the same for both teams. Both teams have to adapt to how the referee sees the breakdown in any particular game.”

Asked what had changed since Cotter took over as coach, Harley said the New Zealander had given the squad the confidence to be adventurous when appropriate.

“I think the guys have the confidence playing with each other: we have the belief to trust each other to go out and feel in any game we can beat the opposition in front of us. It gives us a belief, to try things.

“At times mistakes will happen, but we always try to play to our very limits, push our limits further than we have been. So that means we’re going to constantly improve because we’re always challenging ourselves.”