By Ruaraidh Britton
There’s no way of denying it, and it doesn’t help dodging it, Scotland were awful on Sunday. Their opener against Ireland was an eye-opener and a soul destroyer all in one go. We made Ireland look world class in a game where they barely reached second gear.
Numerous mistakes and missed opportunities sent them on their way to the best possible result in Pool A with Japan on their horizon this weekend.
For Scotland, Samoa descend on Kobe knowing they’re technically in just as good a position as Ireland following their bonus-point victory over minnows Russia. Scotland need to wise up against what was an ill-disciplined Samoan side, and quickly, if they’re going to stand a chance of reaching the knockout stages.
First things first, we need to learn how not to concede inside 20 minutes. We’ve all read the stats this week that show us how many games we’ve conceded early against tier one opposition.
I won’t bring up the heart-wrenching reminders, but defence is key no matter who the opposition is. If Scotland fail to switch on against a Samoan side with confidence and style following their opening win – and recent close results against the Scots – this World Cup could soon become a nightmare. At Murrayfield in 2017, they bagged 38 points, and we all know the score down in Durban. They aren’t the beast they used to be, but that doesn’t make them any less capable if we fail to go at them with all cylinders firing in the opening exchanges.
No one is here for a group stage exit like 2011, especially not after some of the highs Scots have experienced since Toony’s appointment in 2017. We need to make the most of our start like we did against Italy and Georgia. Nail that, and the game is ours. Simple as that.
Selection is so hotly debated in this side that it’s almost too unavoidable when looking at certain players in our squad. How Ryan Wilson and Tommy Seymour started against Ireland is beyond me when Blade Thompson and Darcy Graham offer the physicality we needed against Schmidt’s Ireland side. Samoa and Russia can be physical and we’ve seen that in their early games, so Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, and Darcy Graham will open Monday’s encounter.
Get the selection right and you’re halfway to victory. Will this make the difference?
Injuries can happen to anyone and everyone, and it’s annoying they’ve taken hold of the Scots first. Hamish Watson and Ali Price have gone home, and there’s nothing we can do about that.
If Ritchie performs as well as he did when he stepped up for Watson in the Six Nations, and George Horne shows his worth replacing Laidlaw off the bench, then this could be far more comfortable than expected. We know what both men can do and they proved themselves well over the last twelve months. They’ll know more than anyone having watched the Ireland game as we did that this is a must-win encounter, so they’ll bring everything they’ve got.
The fastest brand of rugby sounds exciting and thrilling and every little bit hopeful. Last Sunday showed us exactly why it doesn’t always work.
We barely strung more than five phases together, and any line out moves in Ireland’s 22 more often than not ended up in our half. Play the ugly stuff. Hit Samoa with multiple phases and they’ll tire quickly, just like Big Stern Vern used to have us running. If we can hold the ball for more than three minutes and keep control of the game whilst keeping the fast pace to our backline then we’ll become Samoa’s worst nightmare on Monday night.
England survived against the USA in tricky conditions in Kobe. The venue was described as sweaty, sticky, and one of the worst places to play rugby in, following the English victory on Thursday. If Scotland can put their practice with shampoo to good use and get a head and shoulders above their opposition, then this game could favour the Scots, as Samoa’s offload game will suffer more in the greasy conditions.
It’s basic knowledge they will have, but given how we played against Ireland, it’s anyone’s guess as to what tactics they will use anymore.
Nobody wants to see Scotland crash out like they did in 2011. To go home after barely three weeks would be crushing and make the rest of the tournament barely enjoyable. If Scotland can survive their first test against Samoa, then there’s every chance of us making the fourth week, especially if we attain the bonus point we now so crucially need. They are basic improvements, but we know they need them given how dire Sunday was for us all.
Apply the basics and edge past Samoa and that’s a step in the right direction; it’s all we ask for.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Allan Dell, Stuart McInally, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Ryan Wilson, George Horne, Adam Hastings, Duncan Taylor.
Part II of Kevin’s Preview will follow shortly.