Almost a year ago to the day defence coach Matt Taylor faced the media and, despite being involved with a Scotland Test victory, confessed to being an unhappy and disappointed man.
The reason was that he had just witnessed the team concede five tries to Samoa in a 44-38 victory to open last year’s autumn Test series. Taylor admitted that his area of responsibility had not been good enough and had to be improved vastly with the world champion All Blacks up next.
Those improvements were made 12 months ago and yesterday, at Scotland’s Oriam training base, Taylor cut a much happier figure again after Saturday’s 54-17 win over Fiji at BT Murrayfield. Two tries were leaked in an even first half, but the explosiveness and verve of the South Sea islanders can be difficult to contain, though it was after the break as the opposition were kept off the scoreboard completely.
Taylor felt the performance sets a platform for the big step up this weekend when the resurgent Springboks come calling this Saturday.
“Going into last week we understood what a threat Fiji are and it wasn’t long ago that unfortunately we came on the wrong side of them in Suva and they were probably unlucky not to beat Ireland over in Ireland not that long ago,” said the assistant coach, pictured.
“So we knew it was going to be tough. For the majority of the game we did a really good job on them. We didn’t want to give them too much turnover ball. The two tries we conceded, one came straight from a turnover and one started from a scrum which we turned over, so it wasn’t great, but in all other facets we were pretty happy.
“A big focus was stopping their off-loads. I think they managed to get seven away off memory and tackle breaks they were about 12 or 13, so for a side like that, to keep them to that we were pretty happy. Again we’re going to have to improve, particularly against South Africa, but there were large parts of that game that we did a pretty good job.”
Last year Scotland bounced back from that Samoa wobble to run New Zealand close and then put 50 points on Australia. With South Africa in a slump the feeling was that something similar could be done to the Springboks – a heady thought compared to decades of watching Scotland’s clashes with the southern hemisphere giants largely through the fingers.
Much has changed, though, as the Springboks have improved out of sight under former Munster boss Rassie Erasmus, beating New Zealand in Wellington and losing to them by just two points in Pretoria during this year’s Rugby Championship.
Now ranked fifth in the world to Scotland’s sixth, the Boks have been further lifted by a thrilling last-gasp win over France in Paris at the weekend and Taylor is expecting a colossal challenge.
“It [France 26 South Africa 29] was an exciting game. I wouldn’t have liked to have been French, but fair dues to South Africa for keeping playing and doing well,” said Taylor of hooker Bongi Mbonambi’s winning try in the last play of the match.
“I think you kind of know what’s coming to a certain degree with South Africa and it’s all about being physical and confrontational and stopping them playing. If you do that you’ve got an opportunity to do well and if you don’t you’re going backwards at a rate of knots. We’ll be looking to get up with their line speed and double contact them.”
As Taylor prepared to go off and meet new call-up Gary Graham, he was asked about the situation of other Scottish-qualified players down south, where there are financial incentives for players to remain eligible for England.
Gloucester scrum-half Ben Vellacott and Sale stand-off Cameron Redpath – the son of former Scotland skipper Bryan – are two others currently in a similar position to the Newcastle Falcons flanker who joined the Scotland squad yesterday.
“Gregor [Townsend] takes a lot of time to get to know the person, he’s very good at that, he sounds them out and gets a feeling of what their commitment is and how they feel about Scotland, he’s done that with Gary and he’s happy about that,” said Taylor.
“It’s not hard from our point of view because if we think the player is good enough, we bring them up and the player’s selected.
“I suppose for a player it might be [difficult with the EQP system], but that’s what you’ve got to decide when playing in England, do you want to represent your country or not. That’s part of the decision making process.”