Maybe it is the optimism that kills you. Having an expectation of the execution of the basic skills by this unquestionably skilful set of Scotland backs is surely not too much to ask for. The inaccuracy of the passing stood out glaringly time and time again in this encounter.
But Gregor Townsend’s all-changed back row performed superbly. He and forwards coach Danny Wilson will be delighted with the way that they linked and carried. Albeit Samoa were a far easier proposition than Ireland, this match could well have sounded the death knell of the post Rugby World Cup Test careers of John Barclay and Ryan Wilson. Magnus Bradbury had any amount of effective carries. Jamie Ritchie’s link to set up Greg Laidlaw’s try (Scotland’s second) on 34 minutes was part of a wonderful piece of interplay.
Blade Thomson is a hard man to stop on the gain line and is an awkward runner to put down early.
Samoa had performed poorly in this year’s Pacific Nations Cup (won by Japan) and had delivered a patchy effort against Russia in their Pool A opener, where they were behind 5-6 at half-time before pushing on to a 34-9 victory. This was, by no means, a vintage Samoa team, shorn further of two front-liners, banned for dangerous tackles in that Russian game. Great Samoan Test stars of previous campaigns would have been licking their lips at this encounter, getting stuck in to a wobbling Scotland, but this lot couldn’t take advantage of any of the opportunities that came their way. Their indiscipline again cost them in this match leading to two penalty tries (worth a straight seven points these days) which also translated into two yellow cards for the same player, so it was a deserved red for their try-scoring machine, wing Ed Fidow.
Scotland’s profligacy with ball in hand and boot on ball knew no bounds. A couple of examples that stick in the memory were after the break. Sam Johnson’s straightforward drop of the ball after a Stuart Hogg penalty touch finder gave Scotland a great attacking position. This was closely followed by Finn Russell’s pass high over Darcy Graham’s head directly into touch after a powerful attacking scrum. Again, just after half-time, Hogg, pictured, had a couple of errant, simple punts, one which went straight into touch and another penalty punt that failed to make touch. These basics need to be executed accurately; in these examples the players were under no serious pressure.
The Japanese know all about accuracy then applying and maintaining extreme pressure on their opponents and capitalising on mistakes: Ireland buckled.
This Scotland team will have to deliver an extremely accurate and well-executed game plan a week on Sunday after they have disposed of Russia next week to stand any chance of knocking the host nation out of the World Cup and putting themselves into the quarter-finals.
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