Six Nations: ‘Toughest loss’, says Matt Scott

CALCUTTA Cup defeat hit Matt Scott hard but he tells Iain Morrison Scotland can be redeemed in Rome

Scotland's Matt Scott looks ahead to his side's forthcoming RBS Six Nations match against Italy. Picture: SNS
Scotland's Matt Scott looks ahead to his side's forthcoming RBS Six Nations match against Italy. Picture: SNS

THERE are a great many reasons to envy a professional rugby player his life and lifestyle, his money, his Jaguar and his holiday house, but fronting up to the press just days after having your backside kicked by England in front of millions is not one of them.

After several days of much-needed rest and rehab, for his soul and spirit as much as his battered body, Matt Scott still looks a little shell shocked. He was back at Murrayfield last week for some extra training, you’ll be pleased to hear, instead of getting the customary week off ahead of the fallow weekend in the Six Nations.

The centre’s first-ever start for Scotland came in the blue moon win over the Wallabies in Australia two summers back. If that was the high point, last weekend was the low. Scott has been chewing over the 20-0 defeat all week and, if he has finally managed to get it down, it’s fair to say that the Calcutta Cup performance still sits undigested and uneasy in the pit of his stomach.

“We got to the Heineken Cup semi-finals [with Edinburgh] in my first season as a pro. You kind of think, ‘Oh, what’s all the fuss about, this being a professional rugby player’s all right!’” says Scott. “But it’s the old cliché, you’ll have some ups and downs, some real highs and some quite dramatic lows, and I’m quite philosophical about the whole thing now. This is one of those lows and it’ll make me a better player for it.

“Personally, it was the toughest loss I have been involved in for a number of reasons. There was the enormity of the game, the occasion and the build-up. It is a game that your friends and family take more interest in, so you don’t really want to let them down.

“I found it hard to get over the game. Usually, I’m quite a positive character but I was pretty down for a couple of days. I didn’t speak to my mum and dad, I just hid away and kept myself to myself, which is probably not a great thing to do.

“There was no formal sit-down [after the game], it was all pretty quiet, everyone just gets on with it, but it was a really horrible atmosphere. A morbid atmosphere.

“There’s more to life than rugby, but you take it all very personally. For me, it was the first experience like that I had had. I have not been involved in a result where there has been such attention and scrutiny from the media and public. You kind of feel responsible for that.”

That isn’t the only thing. Scott was out of position for England’s first try and missed a tackle on Jack Nowell for their second. He isn’t the type to arm himself with excuses but last Saturday was his first start in any match since turning out against Japan last November, when he broke his hand. It is a measure of Scott’s standing within this squad that he was frogmarched back into the front line with just 15 minutes against Ireland by way of preparation. It is testament to the unforgiving nature of Test-match rugby that he failed to paper over the cracks in his game.

“It was a tough one to come back to, very tough just defending, defending, defending,” says Scott. “It just felt like we were doing that the whole game.

“To be fair, they had something like 20 set pieces in our 22 and we only conceded two tries. It showed good resolve that we didn’t concede more than that.”

Scott may be clutching at straws but there wasn’t much else to keep anyone’s spirits afloat after Saturday’s match. And that same resolve that Scotland showed in the final quarter will be needed in Rome in next week’s Wooden Spoon decider against Italy.

Two years ago, Andy Robinson almost resigned after Scotland failed to turn up in Rome and went on to lose 13-6. It was a familiar story with the Scots losing six of their 12 lineout throws, including a couple of attacking chances late in the game, and managing to make just 76 per cent of all their tackles. Last weekend’s completion rate of 80 per cent against England was marginally better but still a long way off a winning percentage.

That has a hidden significance, because the tackle completion rate is usually seen as a pretty accurate barometer for the overall mood of the squad, with low tackle completion equating to a low morale, but Scott insists otherwise.

“We set a minimum target of 90 per cent,” says Scott. “I think it [the problem] is more technical. If I didn’t think the players were giving 110 per cent, I’d say so.” He wouldn’t, of course, but for perfectly honourable reasons. “I don’t think there is any issue with the mentality of the players. Just to be around them before the game and realise how passionate everyone is and how pumped up everyone is, I mean it’s definitely a technical thing.

“I was probably involved in both of their tries and people say you didn’t want to make that tackle but it’s just not the case. If people knew what it’s like out there... Everyone is giving their all. I would never question the passion of the players.”

The Stadio Olimpico will be close to its 73,000 capacity, not least because the Italians smell blood and the Roman crowd has always enjoyed a good slaughter of the innocents. The Azzurri target the Scottish match each year and, while they have lost their last two encounters, the hosts have not been beaten by Scotland in Rome since 2006. Moreover, Scotland’s miserable defeat two years ago will be on everyone’s minds, if only because the performance was almost exactly the same as last weekend’s show. Scott was there on the day but only as a travelling reserve.

“I actually remember going into the dressing room afterwards and there were boys crying. Everyone was just completely gutted and it was just a horrible place,” recalls the centre. “That’s why I mentioned pressure. The whole enormity of that occasion and the pressure of it being the Wooden Spoon decider just got to everyone.

“I think there has just got to be the mentality that we know we can play good rugby. Our confidence has taken a bit of a dent but the big emphasis this morning was ‘everyone get a smile on their face’. It’s hopefully going be a nice day in Rome. It’s not going to be a heavy pitch. It’s not going to be lashing down with rain. Fingers crossed, we play with a bit of confidence, trying to put them under pressure with our skill rather than trying to absorb their pressure.

“We just can’t be bogged down by beating ourselves up too much after the England game. We’re used to it, it’s professional sport. This happens week in, week out. We lose, we work out why and focus on the next game. That’s all we can do really.”

Rome record

SCOTLAND have not won in Rome since 2006 and have won just two out of seven in the Italian capital since the Six Nations began.

2000: Italy 34 Scotland 20

Diego Dominguez, pictured, was the tormentor-in-chief, with Italy’s Argentina-born stand-off kicking 29 points as Italy made a winning bow in the Six Nations.

2002: Italy 12 Scotland 29

Scotland took a measure of revenge two years later when Brendan Laney enjoyed his finest hour in a Scotland jersey, scoring 24 points.

2004: Italy 20 Scotland 14

Matt Williams’ Scotland crumbled in Rome en route to a Wooden Spoon. Roland de Marigny kicked five penalties for the hosts and Fabio Ongaro added a try. Simon Webster’s late try was a mere consolation for the Scots.

2006: Italy 10 Scotland 13

With Frank Hadden in charge, Scotland enjoyed their best-ever Six Nations campaign, winning three out of five. The only away victory came in Rome thanks to Chris Paterson’s nerveless late penalty.

2008: Italy 23 Scotland 20

A last-minute drop goal from Andrea Marcato condemned Scotland to defeat but they avoided the Wooden Spoon on points difference thanks to an earlier win over England.

2010: Italy 16 Scotland 12

Pablo Canavosio scored the only try of the game but Andy Robinson’s Scotland dodged the Wooden Spoon thanks to a wonderful win in Dublin and a gritty home draw with England.

2012: Italy 13 Scotland 6

Italy switched base from Stadio Flaminio to the bigger Stadio Olimpico and enjoyed a deserved win which left Scotland with the Wooden Spoon after five defeats.