AFTER the muscular challenge of the Springboks and the 15-man blitzkrieg of the Samoans, Chris Paterson has a word of warning for the Scotland squad ahead of their quarter-final showdown at Twickenham on Sunday – prepare to be tested mentally.
Scotland’s international cap record holder should know because 12 years ago, back in the 2003 World Cup, he was in the exact same position, facing the Wallabies in a World Cup quarter final, only this time Australia were the host nation. After a sterling first half when Scotland went into the break level pegging at 9-9, the Wallabies eventually ran out 33-16 winners.
“The Australians challenge you more mentally than any other team in world rugby,” says the centurion. “The way they play the game, the way they manipulate the defence to create space, the way they change the point of attack, you have to be totally focused the whole time in defence or you are going to be in trouble.
“If you can slow their ball at the breakdown by half a second, even by a fraction of a second, then you give yourself a chance to regroup in defence. You don’t want to spent too long focusing on the opposition. The best teams in world rugby like to talk about their own game plan, but you have to have respect for the Wallabies.”
I want to ask Paterson what he remembers about that 2003 quarter final in Brisbane but the answer could be a big fat nothing. The poor man had his bell rung just before kick-off when a stray ball hit him on the head. Were the same to happen in the modern era, given everything we now know about head injuries, he would almost certainly not have been allowed to play but Paterson insists that he was never knocked out.
“I can remember everything about that day!” he insists. “In fact that match sticks in my memory. I remember thinking that Australia were brilliant hosts and that Suncorp Stadium, where we had already beaten the USA, was a great venue.
You don’t want to spend too long focusing on the opposition...but you have to have respect for the Wallabies”CHRIS PATERSON
“I always stayed out and hit a few kicks at goal after the warm-up while everyone else was going into the dressing room, but Ben Hinshelwood kicked a loose ball across the field and I never saw it coming.
“I wasn’t knocked out, I was conscious the whole time but I felt completely lethargic, I had absolutely no energy. I was sitting on the ground and I didn’t even know if I could get up. Gregor Townsend walked past and squirted me with a water bottle because he thought I was messing about! Luckily Dr James Robson had seen the whole thing and he ran onto the pitch to help.”
It was undoubtedly an eventful World Cup for Paterson who travelled as a full-back/wing but returned as a stand-off, having displaced his boyhood hero and fellow “Maroon”, Gregor Townsend, in the final pool match against Fiji.
Just as last Saturday was agonisingly close, so too the Fiji match was nip and tuck right to the end when Tom Smith’s late try levelled the scored and Paterson kicked the touchline conversion to give Scotland the 22-20 victory.
“I think that the draw would have been enough for us but I didn’t know that at the time,” Paterson confesses 12 years after the event, “so I thought I’d better just get the conversion. I remember thinking that it was a really hot afternoon in Sydney and I was tired and I just didn’t want to have to go to extra time. I had no issues with taking the No 10 shirt off Gregor, although I do remember thinking to myself that he would probably prefer to play fly-half rather than in the centres.
“But just to show what sort of a guy he is, after the Fiji match their fly-half, Nikki Little, came into our dressing room to swap shirts and he wanted my No 10. Because it was my first-ever Scotland 10 shirt I wanted to keep it so Gregor stepped in, gave Nikki his 13 shirt and still gave me Nikki’s to keep.”
That blow to the head before the Australia quarter-final didn’t seem to phase Paterson since he kicked a conversion, two penalties and a drop goal for Scotland in that quarter-final. There had long been a clamour to run Paterson at 10, the position he played in his youth, and, after such an assured start in such difficult circumstances, everyone assumed the Scots had finally got their man.
Instead he was targeted remorselessly in the ensuring Six Nations and pretty much hounded out of the shirt by various back-row forwards who had him in their sights. An Australian in the form of Dan Parks was the beneficiary.
So what does Paterson make of Scotland’s chances this Sunday against the Wallabies?
“I think it should be a great game, and I certainly hope so from a fan’s perspective,” says the Scotland hero. “But there is a danger that we get less rugby in the knockout stages than we did in the pool matches.
“Australia are probably the form team of the tournament and we will have to focus on our defence.
“The attack didn’t really get going against the Springboks who were so physical or against the Samoans when we almost got caught up in the way the game unfolded with one try following another so quickly.
“One thing is for sure, the coaches will have sat down and looked at the videos and come up with a game plan. Do they try and play an offloading game that gets rid of the need for breakdowns where David Pocock and Michael Hooper do so much damage? I don’t know.
“There is an argument that you shouldn’t change what you usually do because the players will take time to adjust. That offloading game can look ugly at times and it’s risky but also very effective if you get it right.”
You fancy Scotland will need to take a risk or two if they are to book a semi-final spot for only the second time in history.