SCOTT Johnson and his new captain Greig Laidlaw insisted that, despite two defeats and a near-thing to Italy, the South Africa tour of 2013 will prove more beneficial to Scottish rugby’s bid to become more competitive than last year’s winning trip to Australasia.
Johnson returned from his first tour with Scotland a year ago with wins over Australia, Fiji and Samoa, unaware that he would be in charge of the side by the end of the year. The Australian does not lack for ambition and he took charge of a tour for the first time knowing this was the starting point in a bid to increase Scotland’s strength in depth.
He was critical of the first performance against Samoa and the final display against Italy, despite the 30-29 win, but insisted: “We had to do this. We had to go through this kind of tour for the sake of Scottish rugby.
“Everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody is prepared to die. The reality is that we have to be brave enough to take the chance to do this to create competition. I don’t want players turning up thinking they’re an automatic selection and that goes for the Lions boys too. I think that we’re a bit further down the track, but we’re not finished.”
Greig Laidlaw took over from Kelly Brown as captain after the defeat by Samoa, Brown having suffered an ankle injury and being forced to return home. It was Laidlaw’s first time in the hotseat although he has deputised in the past. The 27-year-old proved popular for his on-field leadership, his general play and goal-kicking as well as his straight-talking.
“It’s mixed emotions now,” he said reflecting on the tour. “We were disappointed with the first performance [against Samoa].
“The second performance had a lot of good stuff in there that showed what we could do. There was good stuff against Italy as well as the bad, but we’re delighted to come away with that win.
“The highlights for me would be the first 50-60 minutes against South Africa, the win and the depth that we’ve now brought to the squad.”
It was only his second try in 35 Tests, but Strokosch’s timing was immaculate. He admitted: “In fairness to Italy they were the better team and deserved to win, but we managed to escape with a victory and that is the most important thing. My try got us out of jail.
“We played well against South Africa and lost and we played poorly this week and won, that shows the character in the squad.
“It has been a good tour for bringing through young players, but the guys who are a bit older have got to step up and change as well because we’ve been involved in squads that have bumbled along, playing well and then playing poorly, and we’re on a quest to try to find that consistency of performance every week.”