SCOTT Johnson has backed his team to emerge from the battering inflicted by Samoa on Saturday and regain some pride against the Springboks in the first Test match to be played in the country resort of Nelspruit.
The squad arrived in the town nursing a lengthy injury list but Johnson was already planning to make changes to the side and expose the rest of the 31-man squad to Test rugby in South Africa. Squad morale, he insisted, had not been ravaged by the 27-17 loss and the prospect of facing a dominant home team.
Johnson said: “If they can’t lift themselves for this game they shouldn’t be here really. At the end of the day we’re up against another quality side, but we’re trying a few things on this tour. We know where we are and we need to find out a few things about players in Scotland.
“There are a lot of guys battered and bruised. A lot of guys went down yesterday because it was a tough encounter, but we’re under no illusions; we know it will be tougher this weekend. As I said before we got here, this tour is a slightly different one to tours of the past. We’re seeking to find answers and once again this week we will seek to find out more about different people.”
There is no doubt, however, that while he expected some stomach-churning moments from players new to the Test arena, he was left cursing basic errors in defence and attack that stemmed Scottish momentum at key times and handed Samoa opportunities.
“We were disappointed in some areas of the game. We lost the physical battle and we seem to be doing this regularly, in the first games of a tournament.
“There is an acknowledgement by the players that to win at this level of the game you simply have to win the contact, with and without the ball. I’ve been saying the same thing since the England game at the start of the Six Nations and that’s the reality. We were against a physical side, a quality side, and we had our chances, but if you let them dominate the scoreboard it obviously pays at the end.”
He stated immediately after the game that he did not feel embarrassed by his side’s performance, and what was an historic first Test win by Samoa over Scotland, just disappointed by key failures of individuals to defend properly and retain ball through phases. He re-iterated that yesterday and suggested that a first loss to Samoa was a reflection both of their improvement in Test rugby and Scotland’s strength in depth on this tour.
“History is going to change,” he said. “They’re ranked seventh and we’re in tenth in the world, so there is no doubt that they’re a quality side and it was going to happen at some time. That is the reality.
“We’ve got to focus on us. We’re trying to get a plan in place to understand the depth in our squad. It’s a great opportunity for some players to learn on a tour and some will get better for the experience, and some will get better with the next one.
“We have a big challenge facing us this week, no doubt. This is South Africa’s first Test match here [in Nelspruit] and it’s a great experience for our boys to encounter.
“But we’re not hiding from the fact we need to improve key areas of our game. We’re going to tell the truth when it comes to our game and where we sit, and the fact is there are parts of our game we really need to improve on.
“But that’s what this is about. We intend to do that because this team needs to build the identity that this challenge is not something we are going to back away from.”