Our first three matches of this Guinness Pro12 – against Munster, Connacht and Ospreys – have underlined the importance of the set piece to the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re attacking or exiting from your own half, it’s a key component in the game.
If you look at the scrum, for example, the way I see it, it’s not just one person who makes a difference, it’s the collective unit. We’ve been working all pre-season on it and I think we’ve seen a massive improvement from where we were last season. I was particularly happy with the scrum in the game against Leicester Tigers. I don’t especially want to highlight one person but if you look at Rory Sutherland, three months before that game he was playing for Gala in the Premiership. For him to come in and perform against a full-strength Leicester pack, it shows that if he can work with the other seven players as a collective unit, that has given him confidence.
I think we took heart right from the start that we have got a good scrum and it is a weapon in the game. That and the driving maul – it’s hard to stop if you’ve got dominance through these set pieces.
So we took that confidence through to the Newcastle game. The weather conditions at Hawick made it a difficult night and there were more scrums but, on the whole, I felt we took another step forward there.
To go to Munster and do what we did there, we had complete set-piece dominance in that game and probably didn’t get as much reward as we should have, looking back through the video. On the whole, that gave us a good platform to play from and gave us the result.
Then the following week was really frustrating. After the big step forward we’d taken in that Munster game, we just came up against a different scenario against Connacht. Frustrating to say the least. Looking back over the match with the players, touch judges and referees, we did have dominance in the game and we didn’t really get reward for that. It’s maddening for a coach and for the players as well. We’ve learned from that and realise that we need to adjust on the field in these situations, to try different techniques that allow us to gain confidence without giving free away kicks and penalties.
On the back of the good work done earlier then, this past Sunday at Liberty Stadium was a huge disappointment. Our lineout didn’t function in the opening half which was frustrating, as we had good field position, and didn’t allow us to put pressure on the Ospreys.
We’ll keep working on the things we’re doing, without question. I think we’re going in the right direction and the players believe in what we’re trying to do. I can’t highlight enough that you need a strong set piece to play from and attack from. My job is to produce that platform for the team to play from.
We had a good start to the season with the lineout but the thing we’ve always got to work on is our drive. It’s similar to the scrum once it’s set up – it’s a dominance you can get in the game, having a good driving lineout. If you break it down, you’ve got good throwers in the team and you’ve got good lineout callers. I can highlight Gilcho [Grant Gilchrist] here. Halfway through last season he’d never really called the lineout, he was more a front jumper. We gave him that leadership role and he really developed through the end of last season, working with Izak van der Westhuizen when he was here. Gilcho really took to that role and I think it highlighted the first signs of the leadership role that he has subsequently taken on both within Edinburgh and going on to captain Scotland. That was a first step in his development, in that respect.
We’ve been working hard on our defensive lineout as well, especially stopping mauls. We’ve been pleased with that the first few weeks of the season and it was disappointing we lost that one against Connacht at the end of the game.
Looking at this week’s A game, it gave players like Ben [Toolis] and others that we’ve not seen fully yet, and boys coming back from injury, a great chance to show what they can do. It’s high level – just below the pro club – and against Glasgow, so there was no better game for these boys to have the opportunity to show what they’re made of.