Interview: Scotland’s Matt Taylor on the All Blacks

Glasgow and Scotland defence coach Matt Taylor. Picture: Robert Perry
Glasgow and Scotland defence coach Matt Taylor. Picture: Robert Perry
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Scotland defence coach Taylor has had a few tips from a Kiwi legend on how to stop the All Blacks, he tells Iain Morrison

EVEN amongst the canny, thrifty Scots there are degrees of economy and, according to folklore, the good people from Fife are among the most careful when it comes to the doling out something for nothing as an old joke would have it.

The All Blacks arrive at Murrayfield in a fortnight. Picture: Getty

The All Blacks arrive at Murrayfield in a fortnight. Picture: Getty

One old Fifer visits another and upon seeing his pal carefully stripping the wallpaper in the living room he exclaims: “I didnae ken ye were redecorating!” His pal retorts: “I’m no. I’m moving house.”

Perhaps then it is no bad thing that both parents of Scotland’s new Australian defence coach originally hailed from the Kingdom, Rosyth and Dunfermline to be exact, because Matt Taylor is in the business of giving nothing away.

Although born and raised in Australia, the former breakaway forward spent the latter part of his playing life in the land of his parents’ birth, turning out for Aberdeen Grammar, Edinburgh and the Borders before winning three Scotland A caps. He freely admits that he moved back here with the aim of playing the game at the very highest level and, if he fell just short of his ultimate goal, Taylor has finally fulfilled his ambition to be part of the international set-up since he doubles up as Glasgow and Scotland’s defence coach.

I caught up with him hotfoot from a meeting with former All Blacks coach Wayne Smith, who is in Scotland at the invitation of SRU director of performance rugby Graham Lowe. It’s a timely arrival with the Scotland v New Zealand game just two weeks away. So, did Taylor pick the Kiwi’s brains for clues on how to stop the runaway express train that is the All Blacks in full flight?

“The talk was more about the [Waikato] Chiefs really,” replies the Aussie in an accent that owes more to Brisbane than Brechin. “Wayne talked about how he got the group to connect and made them want to play for one another and connect with the community, and all the camaraderie. He also linked a lot of their systems and the way they want to defend with a feeling towards something. For the Chiefs it was Maori tribes on each bend of the river and the Maori chief fighting. If teams came in, they had to defend the bends of the river – things like that. It was just ways in which you try and get the group as a whole to bind together and fight for something. I really enjoy those types of things especially being about defence.”

Smith took the Chiefs, perennial underperformers in Super Rugby, to the championship last season but Taylor already has a similar boast under his belt. The defensive guru was part of Ewan McKenzie’s coaching team which arrived in Brisbane three years ago when the province were holding up the league ladder. In their first season the Reds finished in fifth place and, the following year, won the title on the back of Taylor’s stonewall defence. He sees a lot of similarities between his old and new clubs.

“The Reds and Glasgow guys as groups are very similar. I’ve been lucky in that both sets of players really enjoy each others’ company. I think that probably says something about how both teams are going in terms of defence because, when the Reds won it two years ago, we defended really well and I think that Glasgow, as a group, enjoy backing each other up [on the field]. I get asked that a lot and that’s the similarity, the group bonds really well.

“I know with the Reds, and it’s probably in the psyche of Australian sport, that Queensland is probably the little brother of New South Wales and the underdog. We really fed off that mentality and, certainly, in my time here I’ve seen that Glasgow really feed off that, we’re a tough bunch, we stick together and we’re not Edinburgh.”

He needs to tread cautiously. When the national squad gets together at St Andrews tomorrow morning Taylor can’t afford to be biased towards the west of the country, since Scotland won’t beat anyone unless everyone, Edinburgh players and the exiles included, buy into his defensive strategy.

He needs everyone singing from the same psalm book when New Zealand arrive because in their ten Tests so far this season the Kiwis are averaging 3.3 tries per match. Ireland pushed them in Christchurch, succumbing to a 79th-minute Dan Carter drop goal, but they conceded nine tries in the final Hamilton Test and an Argentine side that is not known for shirking conceded seven touchdowns in Buenos Aires.

The frightening thing is that Scotland could play pretty well and still find themselves on the wrong end of a thrashing.

“It will certainly be a difficult assignment,” the Aussie admits. “First and foremost, as a team, we’ve got to concentrate on what we do well, get our systems right, our workrate, our preparation. You can talk about systems but in one-on-one tackling we need to be at our best against these guys. They’re such an explosive team, they have so many X-factor players and ball carriers. If we don’t do the fundamentals to the best of our ability, we’ll put ourselves under pressure.

“Even from talking to Wayne today, the All Blacks put you under immense pressure when you have the ball.

“Their defence is geared up to score. Defence is the best form of attack and you are at your weakest when you turn the ball over. Their whole mindset is: ‘We’re going to attack with our defence and we’re going to position ourselves so that, when we do get the ball, you are going to be off-balance and we’ll score.’

“So it’s going to be a tough task. They are the best team in the world by a long way but the way we have to look at it is: How often do we, as a country, get to play against the best? Then we just have to control what we can control – our preparation, our workrate, our attitude and then on, top of that, we have to be technically as good as we can be.”

Taylor comes to the interview armed with a cheat sheet on the All Blacks’ performance in the Southern Hemisphere Championship. It has 19 separate statistical boxes, complete with pie charts, graphs and tables annotating in facts and figures the who, what, when, where and how of the All Blacks gameplan. It’s exhaustive, fascinating, secret (he requested that we didn’t publish it) and utterly useless without one added ingredient. Even the best systems in the world are meaningless unless the players are prepared to put their bodies on the line time and time again.

“Definitely,” says Taylor. “I totally agree. What can you take out of some of those recent Tests that NZ didn’t even lose, when Ireland pushed them close and last weekend’s Bledisloe Cup draw? In those Tests it was the physical commitment of the team that was playing against New Zealand that stood out and, unless we get that, we’ve got no show.

“I think that any time a person puts on their jersey for their country it is a given that they are going to give 100 per cent – or it should be.”

Two weeks today it will need to be.