Building up to the Samoa game there is an air of expectancy on home soil. It has not been verbalised – Scots are canny and self deprecating due to years of being below the other home nations – but many are secretly buoyant. The team are back up to 10th in the IRB World Rankings and the Samoa game is being seen as the crowning moment in a successful tour.
Pride, no matter what doors it is hidden behind, comes before the fall.
Against the eponymous Flying Fijians the home side were passed around and stifled. They ran hard but Scotland had enough brains and bootlaces to ensure that the result was a favourable one.
However, one would be lying if they did not think Scotland looked sun bothered and sapped going into the last quarter. Al Kellock looked more drained with every contact; Blair’s box was hoisted lower the further he ran; Ross Ford and Al Strokosch would need several days in the shade after their collisions. There was illness going around the camp, but Scotland looked battered more than looking ready to vomit.
Credit must go to Dr. Neill Potts and his conditioning crowd for getting the team able to see that game out, but you cannot fully prepare Scotland for the Pacific conditions. Toiling at points must be factored into the game plan.
Samoa, who are one place above Scotland in the World Rankings despite recent triumphs, will be better organised and more set-piece savvy than Fiji. This means that cloth must be cut accordingly. It also means that the team must be as fresh as possible.
Laidlaw has had a magnificent tour, running with purpose and making De Luca shine with his positional play while also jumping in at 9 to keep the cogs moving. He may have to be used with longevity in mind, though.
What this means is that he may have to be sacrificed with 20 to 25 minutes left in the game, depending on the score, so as to allow Weir’s farther reaching boot to breathe. This would also mean that Blair would have to go, as the balance Scotland achieve with the half-back twinnings is one of Andy Robinson’s greatest successes.
Changes may have to be planned for in the forwards, too. The front row will stay as it is, but with Barclay away to plan his wedding and Samoa being stronger in the tight exchanges than Fiji there will be a need for Kellock’s experience while Richie Vernon is likely to slip in at 8.
Because of a Vernon inclusion, ballast will be important. Fiji bested Samoa in the scrum in their last meeting, but Samoa traditionally raise their game for Northern opponents and have men coming in for this test. The Sale man can run and link wonderfully, but the rucking and scrummaging tends fall to others. Kellock has already shown that he tires badly in the heat, so this creates an opportunity. Rob Harley should come in on the bench.
There has been buzz about Tom Ryder, who has had an impressive season, but Harley has carved out a reputation as a niggly and determined worker. He will scrum until he passes out and rucks are his favourite places on the pitch. He should get a run as soon as Kellock puts his hands on his head.
Away from all of this there will be a need to offload only when the ball is being kind to Scotland. Tightness and tactical punting will be more valuable in this game than it was in the last and the touchline may yet prove to be the key to Scotland’s tour. They cannot play to the strengths of Ben Masoe, David Lemi, George Pisi, Ti’i Paulo and Kahn Fotuali’i.
Of course, keeping the plan of hitting Tim Visser in space, regardless of field position, is probably still advisable…