Six Nations: “I’d never question our mental toughness” – Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy

Assistant accepts lapses of concentration have been a problem but insists squad have real strength of character

Steve Tandy puts the Scotland squad through their paces. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scotland defence coach Steve Tandy at a squad training session. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

STEVE TANDY has insisted that Scotland do not suffer from a lack of mental toughness – although he admitted that lapses of concentration had been costly in recent games, notably in the defeat by Italy at the weekend.

Speaking earlier today [Tuesday] at a media conference at Oriam, the national defence coach acknowledged that there are areas of their game which the team will need to have sorted out by the time they meet Ireland on Saturday, when victory would give them a first Triple Crown since 1990. But he was reluctant to accept that the inability to close games out is a persistent problem, despite the fact that, in addition to the loss in Rome, this current Six Nations campaign began with a near collapse against Wales from 27-0 up before his team held on to win 27-26.

“I’d never question our mental toughness,” Tandy said. “Look at the England game – if you lack mental toughness you’re not going to come back from 10-0 down and win the Calcutta Cup. 


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“And that was coming after France, when we feel we’d been absolutely hard done by but came back and produced a performance.

“There is definitely mental toughness, I believe, in this group. There are definitely areas we need to develop and keep growing and produce more consistent passages in play and ultimately wrestle that momentum back.

“We know who we are. Most people won’t know who these boys are. We know them, we see them work day in, day out.

“For me, it’s definitely not a character thing within the group. Is it disappointing from the weekend? 100 per cent. But at the end of the day there’s no-one more disappointed than myself and the players. 

“It’s a big stage and these boys are putting their bodies on the line in front of a lot of people. They love what they do and they’re putting a lot into the game.

“You would never question their mental toughness, absolutely no way. I know the group and the players and rugby players in general are tough blokes.

“Back-field, we lacked a bit of concentration,” he continued when asked about the slump against Italy from an apparently commanding 22-10 lead after half an hour.  “They (Italy’s tries) do look soft. Large parts of the defence, physically, the boys were pitching in. 

“We’ve had a massive pride around our defence and we’ve shown for 45-50 minutes in Wales what we can do. Physically we matched up to France and then you look at England where one sloppy moment cost us a try. 

“That’s part of where we’ve got to grow, because I think the physical stuff, we’re definitely pitching. It’s those little moments of concentration we’ve got to be better because we’re going to need to do it for 80 minutes at the weekend.”

 

 

It may seem like semantic quibbling to insist that mental toughness is not an issue while accepting that lapses of concentration are a concern. And if the phrase were “mental resilience” or “mental fortitude” rather than “mental toughness”, it might be easier for Tandy and the rest of the national coaching team to acknowledge the nature of the problem. 

Even so, despite that element of denial in his 25-minute discourse with journalists, Tandy acknowledged that the obvious problems within the team’s play will need to be ironed out by Saturday, when they come up against Ireland for the first time since last year’s World Cup, when they lost 36-14. “Ireland are an unbelievable team,” he continued. “They were outstanding at the World Cup – they gave us a good lesson. 

“They’re a fantastic team, well coached, well organised with outstanding players, and I think the lesson they gave us in the World Cup definitely makes you think about how you grow. You look at the best teams in the world and see what they do and you look and reflect at how we can develop from that. 

“They’re an outstanding team. We know who we can be and what performance we can put out and we’re definitely going to have to put out our A-game at the weekend. 

“We know it’s going to be an absolutely physical encounter and Ireland will be raring to go after the back of their first defeat in a long time, and obviously they’re in and around the championship. 

“We know the task we’re undertaking and we know the focus and mentality we’re going to need on Saturday.

“The sport moves pretty quickly and we’ve got a big test on Saturday to show we have learned a lot from the weekend.”   

 

While Tandy was willing to address most questions about the squad’s shortcomings, he did not give a direct answer when asked how Gregor Townsend had been since the defeat in Rome. The head coach was asked on Saturday night if that loss had put his position under pressure, and sections of the Scotland support have begun to suggest that, after seven years with Townsend at the helm, the time might be right for a change at the top. But instead of a direct response, Tandy suggested the coaching group and the players took collective responsibility.

“This environment is collaborative,” he said “It’s very open and honest, it isn’t slapping on backs and saying everything’s great. 

“It’s [about] teaching and growing. Just because you lose it doesn’t mean it doesn’t stay connected. To be honest and learn around the review process you have to have that connection and you can see that within the group.”

Glasgow Warriors back-row Ally Miller is the one new addition to the squad this week, but it looks likely that he is there to acclimatise rather than having a chance of making his debut in Dublin. “The back-row boys are fit, so that will be tough,” Tandy said. “But he’s a great kid, he’s quick, he’s had some good performances for Glasgow.”

 

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The Dublin denouement: applications open to be ‘Our Voice in the Crowd’ for the last time in this Six Nations

About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

27 Comments

  1. See Alan Tait. 46th minute. 1999, Twickenham. Rugby done ruthless. Available on popular streaming services.

  2. They are mentally fragile, but they can be mentally fragile and still get to the top of the game in Scotland because we have a poor development system and a domestic league that lacks playing numbers and sufficient quality. If we ever want to win something the SRU need to do more with schools to get more kids playing, get more of them quality coaching and get some meaningful youth tournaments with games at a higher standard. And that’s just for starters…

  3. I don’t think it’s mental fragility I think they play a game which puts huge physical demands on the players.

    Either they have to be conditioned for it or manage the game in phases so they get a rest.

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  4. Well he’s wrong and the fact Tandy is saying this is probably an example of why we have this problem.

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  5. Is there some collective mental fragility in the team? Or is a good part of this to do with some confusion about tactics and instructions on the day, which do not seem to be working and must be counter-intuitive, puzzling and demotivating for the players?

    Kinghorn has been totally missing at the back for I think 4 tries now. He is nowhere to be seen. He is actually up in the line on the left side, miles from the actiom, gawd knows why or for what purpose. He is obviously there because the coaches have told him to be there. Tandy in some odd defensive plan, Gregor wanting him poised to attack, who knows?

    But it seems nuts and the boy’s hearts must sink when they see such easy tries being run in.

    Why is Duham not moving to fill the space? Assume because he too is working under instructions, otherwise surely the defence coach would have given him a right bollocking weeks back.

    When the Italians or anyone else wins a scrum, the ball comes out in a nano second and the three quarters is off on the rampage.

    Against Italy, the time it took to heel our ball back was excruciating, The ref was saying use it, Horne was ostensibly trying to get it out but it was so slow.

    The pack was actually slowing it down. Have they been told to try to push oppo scrums up the park, so they’re busy trying to push until it is obvious it isn’t happening?

    All that did happen was that the Italian three quarters were ready to go and we either got man and ball or some desperate aimless kick from Horne.

    Then look at these penalties, which are primarily on the deck. Our carrier is isolated and goes to ground. He tries to hang on to the ball or not roll away for a second or two, waiting for support to arrive. But time and again, the support is so slow and we are pinged as it arrives.

    Whatever happened to supporting the carrier making the break? Where was our openside in particular, Watson would have got there most times, Darge seems to have slowed down.

    You’d think the forwards coach would be all over this, sorting it out, but the same happens each game.

    The coaches seem to have got everyone doing this highland fling at the line-out, which can only make the hooker’s job throwing in harder and more risky. The opponents don’t seem to bother with the fling, they just take their catches cleanly and get motoring.

    And so on, across so many parts of our play. I get the feeling that our coaching team are not that good at what they’re doing and in many cases are making things harder for the team, with the boys losing some confidence in the instructions.

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  6. Is there some collective mental fragility in the team? Or is a good part of this to do with some confusion about tactics and instructions on the day, which do not seem to be working and must be counter-intuitive, puzzling and demotivating for the players?

    Kinghorn has been totally missing at the back for I think 4 tries now. He is nowhere to be seen. He is actually up in the line on the left side, miles from the actiom, gawd knows why or for what purpose. He is obviously there because the coaches have told him to be there. Tandy in some odd defensive plan, Gregor wanting him poised to attack, who knows?

    But it seems nuts and the boy’s hearts must sink when they see such easy tries being run in.

    Why is Duham not moving to fill the space? Assume because he too is working under instructions, otherwise surely the defence coach would have given him a right bollocking weeks back.

    When the Italians or anyone else wins a scrum, the ball comes out in a nano second and the three quarters is off on the rampage.

    Against Italy, the time it took to heel our ball back was excruciating, The ref was saying use it, Horne was ostensibly trying to get it out but it was so slow.

    The pack was actually slowing it down. Have they been told to try to push oppo scrums up the park, so they’re busy trying to push until it is obvious it isn’t happening?

    All that did happen was that the Italian three quarters were ready to go and we either got man and ball or some desperate aimless kick from Horne.

    Then look at these penalties, which are primarily on the deck. Our carrier is isolated and goes to ground. He tries to hang on to the ball or not roll away for a second or two, waiting for support to arrive. But time and again, the support is so slow and we are pinged as it arrives.

    Whatever happened to supporting the carrier making the break? Where was our openside in particular, Watson would have got there most times, Darge seems to have slowed down.

    You’d think the forwards coach would be all over this, sorting it out, but the same happens each game.

    The coaches seem to have got everyone doing this highland fling at the line-out, which can only make the hooker’s job throwing in harder and more risky. The opponents don’t seem to bother with the fling, they just take their catches cleanly and get motoring.

    And so on, across so many parts of our play. I get the feeling that our coaching team are not that good at what they’re doing and in many cases are making things harder for the team.

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    1
  7. Is there some collective mental fragility in the team? Or is a good part of this to do with some confusion about tactics and instructions on the day, which do not seem to be working and must be counter-intuitive, puzzling and demotivating for the players?

    Kinghorn has been totally missing at the back for I think 4 tries now. He is nowhere to be seen. He is actually up in the line on the left side, miles from the actiom, gawd knows why or for what purpose. He is obviously there because the coaches have told him to be there. Tandy in some odd defensive plan, Gregor wanting him poised to attack, who knows?

    But it seems nuts and the boy’s hearts must sink when they see such easy tries being run in.

    Why is Duham not moving to fill the space? Assume because he too is working under instructions, otherwise surely the defence coach would have given him a right bollocking weeks back.

    When the Italians or anyone else wins a scrum, the ball comes out in a nano second and the three quarters is off on the rampage.

    Against Italy, the time it took to heel our ball back was excruciating, The ref was saying use it, Horne was ostensibly trying to get it out but it was so slow.

    The pack was actually slowing it down. Have they been told to try to push oppo scrums up the park, so they’re busy trying to push until it is obvious it isn’t happening?

    All that did happen was that the Italian three quarters were ready to go and we either got man and ball or some desperate aimless kick from Horne.

    Then look at these penalties, which are primarily on the deck. Our carrier is isolated and goes to ground. He tries to hang on to the ball or not roll away for a second or two, waiting for support to arrive. But time and again, the support is so slow and we are pinged as it arrives.

    Whatever happened to supporting the carrier making the break? Where was our openside in particular, Watson would have got there most times, Darge seems to have slowed down.

    You’d think the forwards coach would be all over this, sorting it out, but the same happens each game.

    The coaches seem to have got everyone doing this highland fling at the line-out, which can only make the hooker’s job throwing in harder and more risky. The opponents don’t seem to bother with the fling, they just take their catches cleanly and get motoring.

    And so on, across so many parts of our play. I get the feeling that our coaching team are not that good at what they’re doing and in many cases are making things harder for the team.

  8. I remember a few years ago an international coach describing Scotland as a first half team. I thought we had got away from that with better fitness and more depth on the bench. However, we seem to have reverted to type this year. I dont think fitness is a problem but maybe ability to make smart decisions when blowing hard is a factor and perhaps behind the penalty count that is killing us. I would also question what is being said at half time in terms of strategy, shape and motivation by the coaches and why its usually forgotten within 5 minutes of the restart. My final observation is the use of the bench in this championship has been poor. There seems to be a lack of confidence in bringing on fresh legs or changing shape to react to whats going on.

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    • Had another thought about decision making when blowing hard. Our philosophy this year has been when conceding points to go for really quick restarts to try and catch the opposition out. However, we’re not getting a long enough breather and we’re not getting a chance for the co captains to sort out problems, especially with Russell taking the quick restart. Maybe the answer for Ireland is really slow restarts.

  9. I was listening to the bbc podcast recently and from both that and this article there seems to be a mentality of “trust our processes” to the exclusion of everything else in the camp. What we were trying to do in the last minutes v Italy unsurprisingly met with failure.

    We really need to build pragmatism, context and an assessment of risk into our thought processes rather than just blindly running pre-determined playing patterns. It is about winning and it is evident that the existing “Processes” will only take us so far on that journey – there comes a time when you have to think on the hoof and find a way to get the job done.

  10. “I’d never question our mental toughness,”
    Well perhaps, just perhaps, therein lies the problem…

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  11. In either the playing squad or coaching squad, we need a Peter O’Mahony…someone who’ll really have an attitude and let the players know it. Scotland too full of skill and nice guys. Need a Telfer back

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    • Agreed, MikeyG but some of the Edinburgh boy couldn’t even cope with Cockerill’s hard nosed approach.

    • I agree, MickeyG, but at least some of the Edinburgh guys couldn’t cope with the hard nosed demands of Richard Cockerill, so what chance would O’Mahoney have ?

    • Yep – flawed on-field leadership is clearly a major deficiency, due to the absence of a strong compelling personality, not necessarily the most visible player.
      While on the same general topic, if we must have “co-captains” their responsibilities should extend further than simply making line-out & backline calls.

    • To get a Peter O’Mahony you have to get him playing challenging rugby from teenage years. Scottish rugby needs a new competitive structure as the context for developing such competitive players.

  12. There’s something wrong – for 20 30 40 mins we are one of the best teams but the other 60 50 40 mins we mentally “lose it” it’s semantics I suppose you could call it mental -weakness or lack of consistency or whatever.

    There are loads of examples of looking like a uttely completely different teams in the same game.

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  13. I believe it was 6 nations 2021 when we had the best defensive record in the competition and everyone was saying what a master tactician Tandy was. No idea what has happened sine then but we have leaked simple scores in the last 3 6 nations and the World Cup.
    The 2 kick through tries from Italy are a case in point. Scotland don’t play a rush defence yet for both these tries last Saturday Scotland were strung out marking man on man rushing up with no Full back at home. Blairhorn is getting the blame for this lapse but surely as he was covering the far wing this must have been the defensive drill laid out by Tandy?
    Both these tries looked dreadfully simple and leaves me wondering why Russell has failed to grubber one through against the rush defence of SA or Wales. (Or do they have the sense to leave the full back at home?
    For one of the England tries whyte? was left for dead at the side of the scrum as if he was expecting someone else to mark the runner and I’m sure something similar happened against Italy , on that occasion it was Redpath left looking foolish. Again like a drill gone wrong.

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    • Honestly, so much of our backfield defensive issue is because Duhan has absolutely zero rugby IQ. I think it wasn’t as obvious when we had Hogg playing, and when Graham is playing our defence is a lot better. Kinghorn and Duhan together are an utter liability in defence. I watched squidge rugby’s video on the France game and he highlighted how much space there was during the Bielle-Biarrey try. He said this was down Scotland not using the back-three pendulum so that when Paterson comes up to the far wing, Duhan should have moved in to cover the back. Watch it back, and you see Duhan just standing on his wing, walking back and watching LBB kick through – no attempt to even get back. Shocking. Duhan might not have stopped it but he could have been up there to apply pressure or to deter LBB from even attempting the kick-through. It’s embarrassing to hear him talked up as ‘one of the best wingers in the world’ when he can’t even get basic rugby things right. Sione even said openly on the Maul or Nothing podcast that Duhan is a crap rugby player and is only there because he’s an athletic freak. Scoring 3 tries against England isn’t enough to stay in the team and he’s been poor in other games, how many other players could get away with the constant mistakes and poor judgement he makes?

      • Very interesting indeed.

        26 tries in 37 games is sensational. The thing about big Duhan is we need to cultivate positions for him to do his stuff most effectively.

        Lack of an all round 15 is key IMO, havinv the space and kicking the ball to where we want “them” to play from and where “we’d” like to play from.
        We often seem to go immediately to Harlem Globetrotters and seem to get frustrated when this approach doesn’t work.

  14. Delusion is more endemic in SRU Towers than was feared. “Most people don’t know who these boys are”, well, yes, I can admit to that, I just want to see them hold onto commanding leads during games. Not an unreasonable request?

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  15. Dear god, defensive much!!!

    The reason we got back into the England game was because they were atrocious. They barely kept the ball for more than two phases. Scotland did not have to fight their way back into that game, the way back was signposted and carpeted by England and they more or less held our hands as they led us down it.

    And isn’t it a coaching team’s job to question everything, especially their own impressions and assumptions, all the time? If we just accept our mental toughness is fine, how will it ever get better?

    I thought quite highly of Tandy before this season but these comments seem misjudged and, coming on top of a worrying number of very soft tries in this championship, I am certainly questioning my impression.

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  16. He would have been better not to say anything. This sounds delusional.

    I am more convinced than ever than a wholesale clear out is needed, in fact, any leading nation would have done so after yet another RWC failure.

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  17. Usual siege mentality, cant see the wood for the trees, etc. We all know where the problem lies and what the solution is. Question is do the SRU have the funds to take the decision that needs to be taken.

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  18. “Look at the England game…”

    That’s exactly the issue, Steve! The team seem capable of doing it against England and then always fail to back it up against others. We were leading France and Italy and didn’t have the resilience to see them off, and the same very nearly happened against Wales.

    There is 100% clearly a lack of mental toughness in the squad and the coaches would better admitting this and doing something about it.

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