AN ALL-ROUND improvement will be needed by Scotland before they meet the All Blacks on Saturday. That much was obvious long before the end of their 44-38 win over Samoa yesterday – but according to Gregor Townsend it would have been the case anyway even if his team had won their first Autumn Test far more convincingly.
The frustration for the capacity crowd at BT Murrayfield was caused by the fact that, after racing into a very early lead and being 22 points clear at one stage, Scotland were unable to put the bed. But bearing in mind there were four debutants in the squad, and that some important players were out injured, the head coach was disinclined to be over-critical.
“It’s the first time this team has played together,” Townsend said. “The opposition are going to force you into errors because they’re excellent players, and we know in all aspects of the game we have to be better – we know that going into next week.
“There are a couple of areas that we will definitely have to be better to take on what is currently the best team in the world. We are aware that there are a lot of things we have to work on.”
The thing that Scotland will have to work on most is defence – conceding five tries can only be described as very poor. But Townsend was disinclined to exempt the attack from criticism, pointing out that while they managed to get six tries, over the piece there were too many failings there too.
“So so,” was his verdict on the attack. “I think we did very well with our set-piece attack – our lineout maul was very good. Some of the fast-pace attack that we wanted to put in in the first half worked well, but we probably didn’t play our best rugby until 35 minutes.
“Then we played much more of what we’re capable of doing. I think we scored two tries in that period [before half-time] and scored a try early in the second half, but after that we made a few errors which gave Samoa some territory and some chances to attack us close to our line.”
“We weren’t able to slow down their ball enough in the second half. I thought we did that well in the first half, when we got a few turnovers to play off, but in the second half they were getting momentum.”
Of the two Scots taken off injured, Tommy Seymour should be fine to face the All Blacks, having been replaced after taking a blow to the toe. Willem Nel, however, is a bigger doubt after injuring an arm: the tighthead prop was undergoing tests last night, and we should learn today whether his arm is broken. Even if it is not, there is a chance that the damage sustained could be bad enough to rule him out of the All Blacks game and possibly the Wallabies match a week later too.
We can expect both those matches to be more structured than the Samoan game was – presuming, that is, that Scotland’s defence does manage to tighten up. And we can expect a far lower score: the 82 points scored here were the highest for a Scotland match at Murrayfield, just surpassing the 78 when South Africa visited 20 years ago and won 68-10.
“It’s a strange game when 70 or 80 points are scored,” Townsend reflected. “You don’t often see that in Test rugby. I’m sure the neutrals would have loved that. It was very similar to the World Cup game when it did look like whoever had possession for four or five minutes were going to come away with something. So it’s a warning for us that we have to make sure we look after our possession and in defence we do much better.
“We’ve won the game, we’ll move on, I think our players’ focus will be even more increased going into next week. We realise we’re playing against a really good attacking team next week and there are a few things we have to get better. But our players are really good defenders. We’ve seen that in their clubs and also playing for Scotland in the last couple of seasons.”
John Barclay echoed Townsend’s thoughts, insisting the squad would use what went wrong as a way of helping them concentrate on the coming match against the All Blacks. “It was a funny and frustrating game in that we didn’t really get into a flow to get our continuity stuff going too much,” the Scotland captain said. “We would like to have kicked on, but we didn’t play well enough to.
“Obviously we’re happy to score 44 points and to play some good stuff, but I think expectations within the group are much higher, so we’re disappointed with aspects of the performance. It’s nice to win, nice for four guys to come and get their first caps and sell out Murrayfield, and there were a lot of positives in our play, but in some ways maybe that [disappointment] is a good thing and will narrow our focus going into next week.”
The Samoans were understandably disappointed too – in their case by not having quite managed to snatch the win – but at the end of a week in which their governing body was declared bankrupt, they were pleased to have given such a good account of themselves. “I felt like even though the result didn’t come our way, it almost put us back on the map,” captain Chris Vu said. “We’re a proud rugby nation and I thought we really showed that even though we lost.
“We’ve only been together three days – most of our boys are new – but we’ve gelled well. I think we were down 22 points at one point, and that fight that we had in the second half showed how much the new generation has pride in the jersey.
“At the beginning of the week we said if everyone can buy into what we’re trying to do here as a team, the result will come. Even though it didn’t come, I felt it was a win for us, because that brotherhood was there.”