There used to be a TV show called Stars in their Eyes, where the contestant would appear as themselves before disappearing behind a curtain only to reappear as some superstar. “Tonight Mathew, I am going to be Elvis Presley.”
I somehow doubt Vern Cotter is a fan but perhaps he should be because in the first half his Scotland squad appeared as mild-mannered Clark Kents before disappearing behind the half-time curtain to re-emerge for the second half in the full Superman garb. They scored within three minutes of the restart and kept Wales utterly pointless in the second half in more ways than one. There have been better comebacks (France in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, anyone?) but not for a while.
“I was really happy, really happy for a number of reasons,” said head coach Cotter, who has now added the Welsh scalp to that of Ireland.
“We set out to win the game and at half-time we weren’t particularly well positioned to do that. The players adjusted well in the second half, we scored a couple of nice tries and transferred pressure back on to the Welsh team. It was a good second-half performance so I am very happy.”
“It was just some of the little things we had to tidy up,” said Cotter when asked about that Damascene conversion at the break. “We had to tweak a couple of things in the way we approached the game. The boys did very well and realised that we were probably watching them [Wales] playing rather than playing ourselves. It’s fair to say that we could influence the outcome if we did a few things and that wasn’t just me talking, it was everybody.”
Finn Russell’s excellence off the tee made light of the absence of Greig Laidlaw’s boot and John Barclay did a superb imitation of the injured captain at his most influential, rallying the troops in that tricky first half when this match could have run away from Scotland.
“We want to get out of that cycle of having a good win and then not backing it up,” said the Scotland stand-in skipper. “I thought we didn’t play particularly well in the first half but to go out there with no panicking and play with control and accuracy for 40 minutes… Wales are a very good side and we made it very hard in the second half.
“Obviously as Vern said the contact area [was vital], we got a bit of quick ball compared to the first half. I don’t know what the stats were but discipline seems to have been much improved in the second half.”
The penalty count is a good indication of who is on top and by my reckoning the Scots had conceded six inside the opening 20 minutes and, if that statistic is correct, they coughed up just four in the next hour which says something about the way the momentum had swung a full 180 degrees in the middle of this captivating contest.
Barclay paid tribute to the “outstanding” Russell as the Scottish stand-off displayed a maturity way beyond his years, which are precious few for one so precocious as we were reminded when Scotland’s last win at Twickenham in 1983 was mentioned.
“I wasn’t even born! I don’t remember it,” Russell said rather redundantly. “These things come up but we ran them [England] close a couple of years ago and last year.
“They are playing well and have a lot of confidence and momentum so it will be a tough game but if we get our prep right we will see what happens.”