DAVID BARNES in KOBE
DEFENCE coach Matt Taylor has warned his Scotland players that they must not now rest on their laurels after managing to prevent the opposition from scoring any points against them in a Test match for the first time since Gregor Townsend took charge of the team in the summer of 2017.
Scotland ‘nilled’ Samoa on Monday night when they bounced back from a World Cup opening weekend mauling by Ireland to defeat Samoa 34-0 on a humid night at the Kobe Misaki Stadium in central Japan. The team’s previous clean-sheets since the turn of the century were against Romania [42-0 at Murrayfield in September 2007], Canada [41-0 at Pittodrie in November 2008] and Italy [27-0 at Murrayfield in March 2017].
Taylor believes that while Scotland’s next opposition, Russia, might not have quite the same rugby pedigree as the other teams in Scotland’s World Cup pool, they have already shown in this tournament that they will not be pushovers.
And another solid defensive performance against the Russians will help build valuable momentum ahead of Scotland’s make-or-break clash against Japan just four days later on 13th October.
“You look at Fiji against Uruguay and see what can happen, so we’re not going to take anyone lightly,” said Taylor. “Russia are a big physical team and they’ve been in the contest for 65 minutes in both of their games so far, so you take them lightly to your peril.
“Sure, in their warm-up games they got beaten by Connacht and by Jersey, but then you look at how they performed against Japan and Samoa,” he added. “I’m sure their coaches will have something up their sleeves to pull on us.
“We have to match their physicality. The teams that have won games in this tournament have also won the physicality battles in all the games I’ve watched so far.
“So, we have to make sure we respond like we did against Samoa and I’ll be saying that to the boys when we review that game: that’s a benchmark now, we can’t be going backwards to how we played against Ireland.
“Every game we play in is a knockout game from here on in, so physicality is number one. Execution is number two but if you don’t show up with the same mindset and physicality then the execution part doesn’t come into play.
“The most important thing for us is to do a professional job by winning the game early and scoring the points later. If you’re ruthless at the start of the game then you hope that some of the expenditure of energy will take it out of the other team and you get the benefit in the last 20 minutes of games. That’s how we’ll be taking on Russia – we’ll take them seriously.”
While the Scotland camp will be cautious about getting too carried away by one impressive win, there is no denying that the Samoa result was a huge psychological boost to a squad who had appeared shell-shocked by their opening weekend hammering from Ireland. It was a valuable reminder that the team had not become no-hopers overnight, even if big questions remain about their ability to compete against the big-hitters in game that really matter on the world stage.
“We’ve reviewed last night’s game today then we’re going to have a day off tomorrow, and after that we’re going to sit down and draw up a really good plan,” said Taylor. “As coaches, we’ve already thought through some really good ideas about how we’re going to approach that lead-up to both games.
“You don’t really want to be looking towards Japan and not do a good job on Russia. Japan will mean nothing unless we get the Russia job done. It’s a balancing act and we just need to make sure we nail it.
“We have to manage two games, who’s playing and who’s not. We’ve got to plan our tactics and make sure we do a professional job going into Russia. Then, three or four days later, with not much physical training, go into the Japan match ready to give it everything.”
“We have to get the training right – the balance, the strategy, the players – we’ve got to get a lot of things right because it’s not a normal two-weeks. Our planning and preparation will have to be spot on.”
Taylor added that apart from loose-head prop Allan Dell, who suffered a head knock and is now going through the return to play protocol, there doesn’t appear to be any significant injury concerns.