IT WAS the moment which encapsulated Scotland’s stuttering first half.
Stuart Hogg had made a trademark searing break, scythed the American defence, committed the last defender and had one of the country’s most lethal finishers on his left shoulder. The pen was already on the notepad to record the first Scottish try of the afternoon for Tim Visser but the Glasgow full-back’s pass was more suitable for a Lilliputian than the strapping 6ft 4in flying winger, who looked back aghast after the ball had cannoned off his shins.
“We were creating chances in the opening period but we weren’t finishing them off. One of those was my wrongdoing,” Hogg said afterwards. “I knew I’d made a mistake. I was gutted with it because obviously I’d done all the hard work.
“I said to the boys and [backs coach] Duncan Hodge at the break that I’d put it right. I like to be left alone in those situations but I put Visser away in the second half and that made up for it. That’s when we really got going.”
For Visser’s part, asked if he felt Hogg owed him one, the flying former Dutchman replied: “That’s what I think anyway. He also thought so at the time but after the game he was a wee bit lippy.
“I knew I had [Takudzwa] Ngwenya on my back so I had to flatten up to try and stay away from him and I was going full flight and the pass was down on my hip. When you are going full flight like that it’s got to be anywhere near your hands. It’s got to be as much my fault as his. You have to try and take those balls. If you want to score a try you have to try and catch it. But he’s a phenomenal player to make the break and to even get there was great and he put me away in the second half so we’re okay now.”
There were a few words spoken but the lads knew what was required after the breakStuart Hogg
The Scotland players who chatted with the media after the 39-16 defeat of the United States which put them back to the top of Pool B were certainly a more relaxed and happy bunch than the ones that trooped in at half-time after a sobering 40 minutes which had been edged by the awkward Americans.
Hogg said: “We got a good kick up the backside at half-time and you saw how well we played in the second half. The boys know when we’re going well and we know when things perhaps aren’t going for us. They certainly weren’t going for us in that first half but we didn’t need to be told.
“Yes, there were a few words spoken but the lads knew what was required after the break. We’re an honest group and certain boys like different things.
“We all knew it hadn’t been good enough but I think we put that right after the break. It was a fantastic second half from our point of view and it couldn’t have gone much better.”
In the last World Cup, Scotland went the last three pool games tryless after putting four past Romania, and Hogg is delighted with the team’s finishing. “For the second game in a row we scored five tries and you can’t ask for much more than that,” said the former Hawick player. “It says a lot about the character of this team because we came into this on the back of a four-day turnaround.
“We know what we’re capable of and I think a lot more people realise that now too. We’d have bitten your hand off for this start, we’re top of the Pool with ten points. But we’ll stay grounded and move on to the next game which is against South Africa.”
The Americans, like the Japanese last week, have earned great respect for the opposition they have provided in the first two games, but Hogg accepts that this Saturday at St James’ Park there will be a significant rise in intensity.
The full-back said: “No disrespect to the teams we’ve just played but South Africa will be a totally different kettle of fish and we’ll need to be ready to go at the start of the game. We need to go right from the first whistle because if we play like that we could find ourselves 20 or 30 points down.
“So for us it’s about starting the game well. It’s now a massive match for us.
“A few of the boys are maybe nervous at the start because a lot of us haven’t played in the World Cup or at this level.
“We’ve never been a quick-starting team and we need to work on that. We need to keep an eye on ourselves and start right from the first whistle.”
The focus shifted to Newcastle straight away, with no wild celebrations, although Visser was looking forward to an easing of the caffeine ban which had been put in place for the four-day turnaround.
“I’ll probably go nuts and have some hot chocolate tonight, who knows?” pondered the winger. “We’ve got another tight turnaround, six days. We’ve now played two in four days. So we’re going to take time, recover, make sure we’re fresh coming into this next game, and try to learn from what we’ve just done.”
Visser added: “It was obviously a tricky game on paper. It was a game we had to win after a four-day turnaround. We’ve just played Japan which was suddenly a really tough game which on paper it shouldn’t have been and then America came out of the blocks.
“In the first half they were putting phases together, we were having to defend for long times and when we had possession we kept turning it over which kept the pressure on us. That is something we didn’t want to do going into the game. In the second half we knew we had to finish stuff off and we did.”