DAVID BARNES in KOBE
STUART MCINALLY cut a disconsolate figure when he met journalists at the Scotland team’s new hotel in Kobe, in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan, on Monday evening [local time]. The Scotland captain was on media duty because he had failed to attend the immediate post-match press conference following the team’s capitulation to Ireland the previous night due to a severe bout of cramp, but the extra 24 hours he’d had to get his head round what had happened in Yokohama didn’t seem to have been of any use.
To his credit, the hooker answered every question with his usual patience and candour, but it was clear that he had no real explanation as to why the team he led out on to the park had failed so miserably to provide any sort of resistance against an Irish juggernaut. There had been a lot of bold talk before the tournament about this being the best Scotland side, with the best preparation under their belt, to ever set off for a World Cup.
The impression after 80 harrowing minutes of the opening match was that Ireland had come to a gun-fight with both barrels fully loaded, and Scotland had turned up with a pea-shooter.
“I’ve looked back at the week to see if there is anything we could have done differently and I don’t believe we could have,” he shrugged. “All we could do is perform and we did not perform. That is why it is frustrating. We will sit down as leaders and discuss ways of doing it better. Ireland are a quality side and they started with loads of energy and we struggled.”
The national psyche
Set-backs and Scottish sport go hand-in-hand. We are fairly thick-skinned about our own deficiencies. Some of us have even managed to develop something of a gallows humour about the perpetual hamster wheel of soaring optimism based on not very much at all and the subsequent sickening bodyblow when it all goes wrong. But this one really stung. There has been a furious backlash on social media.
The usual patter in this situation is for the interviewee to dismissively claim he doesn’t do social media or read the papers, but McInally was big enough to admit that he was aware of what has been said and to even indicate that he understands where the frustration is coming from.
“We can’t ignore it,” ,” he said. “It is all over social media. It isn’t something we go looking for, but unfortunately it is the way it is. You do stumble across it and based on the way we played yesterday, I don’t think we are not due any criticism. It’s a professional sport. We are expected to play well, and we didn’t play well.
“We criticise ourselves really heavily as well, and that criticism comes from within, from what the coaches say about our performances and what we demand from each other. We are hard on each other, and we are desperate to do well in this tournament.
“It was not through lack of effort or through lack of preparation,” he stressed. “Everybody did all they could to win that game. Sometimes you don’t play well, and we didn’t play well.
“They played really well and beat us. We have to learn from it, of course we do, we can’t just bin it and forget it. We are not going to play Ireland again. We have to turn our focus to Samoa and how we are going to beat them. Nobody is hurting more than the players and the management at the moment.”
Keeping the faith
“We are certainly not doubting our ability to finish this pool strongly. It is something that is going to focus us now. We have to win every game to get out the pool. That is a challenge because we have some good teams in this pool.”
Next up is Samoa next Monday. The Pacific Islander play the first game of their World Cup campaign against Russia in Kumagaya tomorrow [Tuesday] night, so we will all have a better idea of exactly what to expect from them after that – but recent history tells us that a serious challenge lies in store.
Scotland have come out on top in five of the last six matches against between the two sides but have never finished more than seven points ahead of Samoa. In the one game Samoa won, in Durban during a tri-nations tournament in the summer of 2013, the score was 27-17, meaning the aggregate score over this period is +3 to Scotland.
“They are a big physical side and have excellent skills,” concluded McInally. “They are very good on counter attack so we will have to be careful how we play against them. They have dangerous runners.
“We have not done too much focus on Samoa yet as we had been preparing for Ireland, but once we have our meetings over the next couple of days our game plan against Samoa will ensure we have a strategy to combat their players.”