Scotland wins achieved in spite of tour scheduling

Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was deprived of 15 players for the tour. Picture: SNS
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was deprived of 15 players for the tour. Picture: SNS
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ONE thing is blindingly obvious: the new Scotland management are far from impressed by the schedule that has been imposed on them for their summer tour. They have struggled manfully to make the best of a bad job, seeing and judging every fit Scottish qualified player in the process, but there is no doubt that is how it is seen – the original version of a tour from hell.

It is not so much the match schedule – though it is bad enough having to play South Africa on their own patch, coping not only with a bucketload of injuries but 15 players banned from by clubs from taking part – but the travelling has been the real killer.

Common sense would have dictated that they would start at one of the extremes, Canada or Argentina, and stop off in the USA on their way to the other end of the American continent; that if they were to finish in South Africa, the jumping off point would be somewhere with reasonable communications with the African continent, not plonk-bang in the middle of Argentina with a two-day journey between one match venue and the next.

Then you start to wonder what the point is in playing South Africa when you can not field what you think is the best team from those who are fit. To be fair, that applies to both teams – is it truly a Test match when both sides make it clear they are well under strength?

The match is outside the international window, so clubs in England and France have stopped their players taking part. That means seven Springboks, including the likes of Bryan Habana and Bakkies Botha are off on holiday instead of playing, but that is more than doubled by the 15 Scots who have had to be released from the tour under the same rule.

Add in a few injuries to players like David Denton, Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar and it is easy to see the problem which means that, in some positions, it seems to make it easier to get a Scotland cap than a start for Glasgow Warriors or Edinburgh.

Last summer it was hookers dropping like flies, leading to Fraser Brown making his debut for Scotland before he had done so for Glasgow; this year it is back rows, leading to Kevin Bryce getting his Scotland cap before he has started, also for Glasgow. There must be a good chance that Adam Ashe will find himself in the same position this week after he was called in from his John McPhail scholarship trip to New Zealand.

The litany throughout has been that all these problems, bar the ridiculous travel schedule, may pose problems but they also create opportunities.

For a lesson in how to seize your chance, look no further than Tommy Seymour, the wing who missed the first half of the tour after being held back for the bit where only Scotland-based players could take part and responded by laying on both Scotland’s scores in the 21-19 win over Argentina.

It was not so much that he made the breaks – plenty of Scotland players have been doing that in recent years – but when he got there, he did the right thing at the right time and tries resulted.

He was quick to pay tribute to those around him: “Credit to the guys who finished because their support lines were good and they made it really easy for me to put them in; the communication was brilliant,” he said.

“Your first instinct is to try to get to the line – it is almost part of the job title – but I had to make sure we got the try no matter where it came from.

“First one, [Stuart] Hogg was loud and clear. I could hear that there was a defender coming across. That is why I tried to draw him in and luckily managed to get the ball away before he knocked me into touch. Hoggy was basically giving me a play-by-play as I was running.

“Henry [Pyrgos] and Nick [De Luca] were both there for the second. Nick has accused me of a bit of Glasgow bias – I can assure you it wasn’t, it was about making sure the pass went to hand.

“The coaches hammer the point…you support, you support and you support…make sure you get in the right position for the pass and that is what he did.”

He is firmly in the “opportunities not weakness” camp. “There is a lot of positivity,” he said.

“A group of us arrived in the third week of the tour with the boys having managed two really hard-fought wins against North American sides that threw everything at the Scots to try to turn them over. It was two great wins and then we had to come to Argentina to try to keep the momentum up.

“There is pressure and there is excitement. All the guys coming in are clamouring to play and aiming to prove a point for themselves. We have come to South America and ground out an incredibly hard-fought win.

“I am incredibly happy to have done so and it gives us a lot of heart going to South Africa.”