MATT TAYLOR says he was the most disappointed man in the country after Scotland’s woeful defensive performance against France last Saturday night, and says he takes responsibility for failing to get the players in the right frame of mind for the task of taking on a formidable opposition in their own backyard.
The Australian-born assistant coach was clearly stunned by the lack of urgency exhibited by his team in terms of getting into position and then being ready to meet fire with fire against a Les Bleus side which grew with confidence as the game wore on. France ended up running in five unanswered tries at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, as Scotland’s World Cup warm-up schedule got off to the worst imaginable start.
“It’s about making sure we have the attitude and aggression first and foremost, particularly away from home,” said Taylor. “I’ll take that upon myself in that I didn’t get the boys pumped up like we should. These warm-up games we’ve focused a lot on ourselves rather than the opposition. On reflection maybe we should have poked and prodded and fired up the boys more than we did.
Given what was at stake, it was an astonishingly haphazard performance. We expected some rustiness, but nobody was anticipating that the team would collectively play with as little fire.
Taylor revealed that there were some pretty honest conversations between coaches and players during the early part of this week as the squad began the process of trying to turn things around ahead of a rematch against France at Murrayfield on Saturday.
“There were a couple of areas we specifically looked at and one of them was making sure that we fronted up with the right attitude,” he explained. “Defence is about attitude, work-rate and systems. If you don’t get the attitude right, the other two don’t come into it.
“If you want to get up and hit people, knock them backwards, then that is what you are going to do. The French are one of the biggest teams in the world and they love their offloads, you give them what they want on the front foot and they are going to take that all day. We didn’t take that away from them.
“The first phase they were making meters, the second they were offloading, so you go from halfway to your own 22 within two or three phases and that’s not what we’re all about. Unfortunately, that’s what transpired.
“You’ve got to take every situation on its merit. Sometimes, as a defence coach, I’ll sit back and think we’ve covered what we need to cover and they [the players] have gone and done a really good job, but at other times they haven’t. We were away from home, we had done a lot of work on our defence, we had done a lot of work on everything, and we just left it up to the players to get themselves in the right frame of mind, and maybe with it being a warm-up game in a nice place like Nice we just assumed that level of intensity was going to be there, and it wasn’t.
“We need to make sure that under stress and duress that guys are sticking to systems. We did that in part [last Saturday] but at other times we didn’t.”
No time to panic
There is a growing school of thought that Scotland need to learn to be more pragmatic when things are not going their way. Few doubt that Gregor Townsend’s side can be one of the most entertaining and dangerous in world rugby when the game opens up, but they also have a propensity to crumble when they come up against opponents who are able to ramp up the intensity.
Taylor chose not to get into a discussion as to whether a re-think is required this close to the World Cup.
“I’ll focus on the area which I’m involved in – defence – and that’s the area where we need to front up,” he stressed. “All the best teams in the world are the best teams defensively, and we didn’t show that on the weekend. I’m the most gutted out of anyone in the team – probably in the country – because that’s my job to make sure we do that.
“So, I made it pretty clear today that we fell below the standards expected, including myself. I need to make sure the boys are up for it this weekend. We have the opportunity to right the wrongs.”
Taylor indicated that Saturday’s set-back is not likely to have a major bearing on team selection this weekend, with the plan always being to mix the team up in these two matches against France before using the final two warm-up matches versus Georgia to focus in on the side likely to start the World Cup opener against Ireland.
Sam Johnson, Magnus Bradbury and Fraser Brown are still out injured. Meanwhile, John Barclay did not do contact today as he recovers from a wild clear-out by French lock Paul Gabrillagues early in Saturday’s match, but he is not concussed. Jonny Gray and Duncan Taylor didn’t take a full part in training either but both are expected to be available at the weekend.
“I think it is about adjusting but not changing dramatically, we just have to do a lot of things better,” concluded Taylor. “Hopefully we can show that at the weekend. We can’t do that two weeks in a row.”