From a Scottish perspective the price of defeat to Manu Samoa is huge. Casualties are mounting every day with several players still under observation and captain Kelly Brown on a plane back home. Not only that but Scotland have dropped to 11th in the IRB World Rankings.
It’s easy to point to the fact that Samoa are 7th in those same rankings and did for Wales during the autumn but there’s not getting away from the fact that Scotland’s performance at the weekend was dire. We highlighted some pointers for Scotland ahead of the Samoa game and aside from keeping 15 men on the pitch they failed every other marker set for them.
So armed with the statistics from the game and the autumn test at Murrayfield it’s time to look at five key points for beating South Africa.
1. Win the tackle battle
This was a regular feature of our Six Nations “5 Key Points…” articles and having successfully bullied Ireland and Italy off the park you might be forgiven for thinking Scotland had learned something from the autumn defeat to Tonga. Scotland only completed 78% of their tackles with Samoa completing 85%. Against Ireland in the Six Nations Scotland completed 90% of their tackles and made a massive 154 during the game. Against Samoa they only managed 62. To win an international match of rugby the tackle completion rate has to be at least 90%. Anything less than means you’re relying on opposition of such ineptitude that… oh…
The South Africans targeted Laidlaw at 10 in the autumn and so Heathcote will have to be alert to the threat.
2. Stay awake
Many Scottish players were unrecognisable in the second half with Edinburgh’s player of the season Greig Tonks in particular seeming to suddenly realise he was involved in a game of rugby from about the 41st minute. Before that Scotland seemed to roam around the pitch with the drive and motivation of an office worker at ten to five on the Friday afternoon of an August Bank Holiday. In the old days Scotland used to play for 60 minutes then fade, now they don’t turn up till half time. Scotland must play for 80 minutes. Admittedly Saturday was the first taste of international rugby for some in the team but South Africa are another step up from Manu Samoa. A big step.
There’s been lots of concern expressed about Laidlaw’s tendency to box kick and the general tactic of Scotland going for territory through the boot rather than moving it through the phases. The truth is that Scotland are usually better without the ball. They had most of the possession on Saturday and lost. Look at the wins over Italy and Ireland in the 6 Nations and the opposite is true.
Getting Scottish players to a point where they can offload from a tackle and step like a Samoan will take years and a massive culture shift in training young players. For the minute Scotland play better when they play a territory game and that means kick and chase and trying to steal ball from line outs. Scotland squandered several opportunities to test the Samoan line out close to the try line especially given the fact they were struggling to cope with the Scottish maul.
4. Tame the Beast
Scotland won all of their own scrums against Samoa and took one against the head. The line out, usually a strong point of the Scottish game faltered once but generally held up well. The front row has been significantly weakened with the loss of Ryan Grant to the Lions and Geoff Cross to a shoulder injury.
Jon Welsh showed he can compete at this level when he played Italy in 2012 but the South African scrum is one of the best in the world and so Scotland will have to be equal to the challenge posed by The Beast. Jim Hamilton should be back and will shore up the line out but everything rests on the quality of ball delivered from the hooker and whilst Steve Lawrie had a decent game he has yet to convince that he can be first choice once MacArthur and Ford return from injury. Club International hooker Fraser Brown (pictured) has been called up as backup. He only got his pro-contract this season.
5. Visser v Habana
The Flying Dutchman versus a man who once raced a cheetah should be a great encounter. Visser’s one on one defence is one of the weakest parts of his game and despite some progress during the 6 Nations his was found lacking against the raw physicality of Manu Samoa despite some excellent scrambling. He’ll need to step up his game against South Africa especially with Habana bearing down on him, although if anyone can catch him, Visser can.