Competent but low-key start to Scots’ Cotter era

Tim Visser dives between the posts to touch down for the opening try of the match against USA in Houston. Picture: SNS
Tim Visser dives between the posts to touch down for the opening try of the match against USA in Houston. Picture: SNS
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THE Americans were targeting this test against Scotland for an upset but they will need to think again after a disappointing performance in a sub-standard Test match against a competent rather than inspired Scotland side.

United States 6-24 Scotland

New head coach Vern Cotter got the win he wanted to kick off his Scotland career, although we will need to see a little more from his side before the Kiwi is hailed as the next big thing.

“First of all, we are happy to get a win in difficult conditions,” said Cotter after the game. “I thought we showed good structure in the first part of the first half and gave ourselves the opportunity to score a couple of tries.

“Our scrum got the better of their scrum which gave an area to get a good grip of the game and gave us points as well. So that was pleasing.

“We were very pleased to see the ­opportunities created and we’ll be working next on how we can probably get over the line and score more points.

“Generally, if I cut it short, we scored tries and we didn’t get a try scored against us and that’s a good thing, so there is a good basis for us to work with for our next game against Canada.”

Cotter’s remarks regarding missed opportunities must have been aimed at Tim Visser among others. The big Dutchman grabbed the opening try of the game but he could have had as many as four touchdowns inside the first half, only to watch every other ­opportunity disappear, including one that bounced out of his hands as he went to place the ball on the Eagles’ line.

As skipper, Greig Laidlaw admitted after the match, “we probably left a ­couple of tries out there”.

In addition to Visser’s early score, Scotland’s set scrum won a penalty try in the first half and Stuart Hogg banished the memories of Cardiff with a classy performance at full-back topped off with a 50-metre sprint for Scotland’s third try after a loose kick by Shalom Suniula.

Hogg also picked up a broken nose for his troubles, just one of several ­worrying injuries suffered by the Scots on the first match of a gruelling, continent-crossing tour. Geoff Cross suffered cartilage damage to his ribs but he was headed home in any event after the tragic death of his father last week.

Jim Hamilton’s tour may also be over after the big man turned his ankle and Duncan Taylor didn’t look overly happy either having pulled up sharpish with what looked like a tear to his calf ­muscle.

“We knew it was going to be a tough tour,” said Cotter and the head coach has to mull the possibility of drafting in replacements after just one Test of a four-match summer.

Further medical assessments will be required before the final decision is made but, as Cotter pointed out, ­Scotland do not boast an abundance of tighthead props.

On the positive side of the ledger Scotland restricted American scoring to no more than a brace of penalties from the boot of Eagles’ full-back Chris Wyles, one either side of half-time. ­Bizarrely, the only time the Americans threatened a try was when they were ­reduced to 14 men with loosehead prop Olive Kilifi in the sin bin.

Todd Clever thought he had scored after wriggling through a maul and appearing to touch down only for the TMO to disallow the effort.

“When the game was unstructured I thought that they [the Eagles] were quite effective and they put pressure on our defence,” said Cotter. “I was happy with our defence. It’s kept its form and kept its shape and managed to keep coming up off the line even later in the game. Guys were obviously talking and working together and I think that work together is very important and pleasing. There was initiative all over the park.”

Cotter then turned to Scotland’s attacking game, saying: “We say the first line break we made from a loosehead prop, everyone is putting their hand up and trying to get the team going forward. Initiative is a very important thing in this game.

“I was pleased that, even though there were mistakes made, the intention to keep playing and keep pressure on the opposition even though we’d crept in front was really positive, so I’m really happy about that.”

But there were times when the game was less than engrossing as a spectacle. The third quarter remained scoreless and the humidity meant the ball was a bar of soap with handling mistakes killing off continuity. When asked what areas in particular Cotter wanted to see improved he suggested that there was plenty of work ahead.

“We’ll come back to basics. We want to do the simple things well. We’ll come back to kick-off, we’ll look at those to make sure we can get out of our half with a little less pressure. We’ll improve our line, we’ll improve our ­defence, we’ll improve everything.”

Scorers: USA: Try: Conv: Pen: Wyles (2). Scotland: Try: Visser, Pen Try, Hogg Conv: Laidlaw (3) Pen: Laidlaw.

USA Eagles: Kilifi (Lamositelli 50 min), Thiel (Coolican 19), Fry (Wallace 40), Stanfil (Tuisamoa 63), Smith (Barrett 53), Clever, LaValla, Dolan, Petri, A Suniula; Hume, S Suniula (Niua 20), Kelly, Scully, Wyles.

Scotland: Reid (Allan 56), Lawson (MacArthur 63), Cross (Low 43), Gray, Hamilton (Gilchrist 37), Strokosch (Low 62), Cowan, Beattie; Laidlaw, Russell, Visser, Taylor (Evans 63), Lamont, Maitland, Hogg (Jackson 74).