STUART HOGG says that Scotland are not interested in just making up the numbers when they take on New Zealand next Saturday, stating that his team are targeting a first ever win against the world’s most successful team at the 31st time of asking.
“We are more than capable of knocking them over. We fully believe we can go out there and get a victory. If you don’t believe that you’re in the wrong place,” he insisted.
The full-back explained that Scotland’s last clash against the All Blacks in 2014 will give the team belief that they are not facing an impossible challenge. A Greig Laidlaw penalty in the 66th minute of that match meant his team were just one point behind deep into the final quarter, before a Jeremy Thrush try in the 73rd minute took the game beyond the team in blue. The final score was 16-24 to New Zealand.
“We were 10 to 15 minutes away from winning that game. We will learn from that. We know what the All Blacks are capable of but we will have a game-plan ready to go,” he said.
“First and foremost, we concentrate on ourselves. We are not going out there to stand back and watch and admire the All Blacks. We want to be in a position to shut them down defensively. What better opportunity than to play the All Blacks, the best team in the world, at home?”
If Scotland are to achieve an almighty upset then they will have to be far more disciplined and focussed, particularly in defence, than they were against Samoa on Saturday. Hogg admitted that he expects defence coach Matt Taylor to ‘unleash hell’ on the team this week as he looks to rectify the failings which allowed the Pacific Islanders to come within six points of securing an historic come-back victory.
Ultimately, the Scots had enough in the locker to hold out against a Samoan side high in courage but lacking in world class fire-power. Gregor Townsend’s team will, however, pay a heavy price if they are as loose when the All Blacks roll into town next Saturday evening.
“Samoa applied a lot of pressure to our defence. They made us play earlier than we would have liked. We will learn from that and look to improve against the All Blacks next week because if we play like that it will be a tough, long day,” conceded Hogg.
“Credit to Samoa, they looked to offload the ball and they are big fellas who like to go forward. When they get their offloading game going it is tough to defend. We were fully aware of that coming into the game. It is our ability to make double tackles and stop them on the gain-line that is important. We didn’t get it right there. Not everything is going to be perfect so it gives us something to concentrate and work on for next week.”
“We have a good defence coach in Matt Taylor, who was pretty annoyed after the game. We owe it to him to stand up and defend well and stop these boys getting over the gain-line. We need to be a lot better in defence.”
“We are fully aware of the challenges coming our way next week. We need to step it up.”
“There’s always areas to improve and we will look at our game really closely. Come Monday we’ll get back on the horse and go again.”
Hogg was asked what, specifically, Taylor had said after the game.
“Not very much, which is a bad thing,” he replied. “He’s probably going to unleash hell on Monday. We fully expect that to happen. We pride ourselves on our defence and it wasn’t good enough. We will work on that and hopefully next week there will be a big improvement.”
One of the most alarming aspects of Scotland’s performance is the way they continually coughed up points after scoring themselves. Three times in the second half, they scored tries, only to concede immediately afterwards.
“It’s the old rugby saying: you have never really scored until you’ve got rid of it after the kick-off. We conceded two or three tries that way. For us to score and then concede is pretty pointless. It’s something we need to work on. It’s bitterly disappointing to score a cracking try and then concede one straight off,” agreed Hogg.
Hogg made sure Scotland got off to a flyer on Saturday with a try after just 92 seconds, but insists that early score did not lure him and his team into a false sense of security.
“Not at all. On another day that ball could have bounced elsewhere. Fortunately, it came into my hands. We were fully aware of the challenge coming our way. We knew they had absolutely nothing to lose so they would chuck the ball about and have some fun,” he said.
“For us, our basic skills let us down at times. Our catch-pass, numbers to breakdowns, width and depth on the ball – these are little areas we work incredibly hard on through the week but they didn’t come off for us at times.
“We pulled the boys in just before half-time and said we need to go back to basics and off the back of that we scored two cracking tries. When we get the basic things right we are a very good team,” added the team’s vice-captain.
A medical update is due today [Monday] from the Scotland squad, with tighthead prop WP Nel [arm] and Tommy Seymour [toe] the biggest concerns.