Scotland claim they will start as underdogs when they tackle Samoa in Durban tomorrow at the outset of the quadrangular tournament that also features hosts South Africa and Italy.
Matt Taylor, Scotland’s defence coach, pointed out that Samoa are ranked three places higher than the Scots by the International Rugby Board, while their recent scalps include Wales at the Millennium Stadium, a feat Scotland have not achieved for 11 years. “It is not that long ago that they beat the Six Nations champions, Wales, and they probably should have beaten France, so they are a very good team,” Taylor said.
“We’ve had a good look at them and a lot of their patterns and moves are similar to those they use against the other Six Nations teams. I think we know what is coming, it is whether we are up to the challenge. Look at the IRB rankings where they are seventh and we are 10th, so in that respect we are the underdogs. They are a very, very good team and a proud rugby nation so we are going to have to be at our best to beat them.”
While Scotland have never lost to Samoa, they have ridden their luck in recent games, needing a last-second kick to win in 2010 and a try and conversion two minutes from time for victory in Samoa last year.
In that most recent clash, the home side had been denied what looked a perfectly good try that would have put a win out of reach for the Scots.
Taylor has some insight into the task facing his side, having coached some of the Samoan squad, including Daniel Leo, the lock, and Ole Avei, the hooker, when he was in charge of the defence with the Queensland Reds in Australia. “I have been lucky enough to see them up close and they are exceptional players and good ball carriers, so it is going to be difficult for us,” he said.
“We have worked really hard on our defence over the last two weeks though. Structurally we feel we’ve really made gains in what we are trying to achieve.
“If you look at a lot of the Tests Samoa have played recently, they come really hard at your first three defenders round the ruck area, so we need to be our best around that channel.
“We have also had a good two weeks’ solid preparation. A couple of their players have only come in on Tuesday morning. Having said that, they are an island team and these are sides that play heads-up rugby.
“If you let them do that, they are very hard sides to play. We have to make sure we don’t give them momentum and that means fronting up.”
While full of respect for their opponents, Taylor remains confident that his players have the ability and the big-match mentality to win the game. That confidence stems from even the most inexperienced members of the team, although Taylor accepts that there will be pressure on Tom Heathcote, the fly-half expected to call the shots on his first Test start. “He will have a good challenge, I am sure they will try to target him – most teams do attack down the fly-half channel,” said Taylor.
“He knows that and has worked hard with the Bath defence coach [Mike Ford, who was the England defence coach for many years] on his technique and he is really confident in his [Heathcote’s] ability as a defender.
“He has worked hard in the Scotland environment as well. It will be a challenge, but one he is looking forward to. He is a good defender.”