Scotland turned in a scintillating five-try performance against the Pumas. With the All Blacks on their way, Rory Baldwin looks at what we learnt from last week.
Confidence is everything
Whatever Vern Cotter has instilled in his team since the summer seems to be working. The players had been given license to try things; to play heads-up rugby. Although there was the odd silly moment, they are close enough as a group of players not to try anything too rash and let their team-mates down. The result: five tries that were (aside from Tommy Seymour’s interception) the product of rugby so simple, someone less jaded by false dawns might call it breathtaking.
Indiscipline still costs us
The downside this time was a reduced gloss on the scoreboard, which as punishments received by Scotland teams in the past was bearable. Nonetheless, a period of indiscipline in the second half saw Scotland play nearly the final quarter down to 14 men, as first Rob Harley then Jim Hamilton were sent to the bin by Wayne Barnes.
A penalty try in the scrum and two further soft scores reduced the margin of victory to ten points, and if they’d kicked all the penalties they were offered, Argentina would have been much closer. From the form they displayed in the first half Scotland were well worth a 20-point victory, but similar lapses against New Zealand could result in more than just wounded pride.
If they’re ready, they’re ready
There was great composure shown by Scotland’s youngsters, several of whom have caps numbering in single figures. Finn Russell (now with three caps), Adam Ashe (two) Mark Bennett (one) and Jonny Gray (six) all had mature games, with Russell’s kicking from hand composed and Jonny Gray a constant presence in the loose and in defence.
The 24-cap veteran Stuart Hogg is only 22 and even Richie Gray is only 25, so large parts of this team should be together in the dark blue for years to come. With Scotland having for so long stuck with the tried and tested when it was clearly not working, it is refreshing to find our coaches trusting in young talent and being rewarded.
Fear is the key
When sometime captain Kelly Brown was dropped from the squad in favour of in-form London Irish openside Blair Cowan, it was a clear announcement from Cotter that the old guard were no longer safe in a listless Scotland side racking up caps without signs of progress.
Cotter hasn’t completely left the previous generation behind, but those who remain, like Greig Laidlaw and Ross Ford, know there is a real danger of being dumped for a younger model. Ford’s continuing inability to hook aside, they both rewarded Cotter with their finest displays in Scotland shirts for years. Richie Gray stepped up to the mark too with a big game, and if Cotter wants to pick his first-choice captain Grant Gilchrist he should have a real fight on his hands from the Gray family.
Cotter could be just what we need
Previous Scotland coaches have perhaps invited more focus on themselves than the players’ abilities. Cotter gives little away in the press conferences, making for less entertainment, but the players clearly respect the new man and his approach to building the team. That approach is grounded not around teaching the players how to play rugby, but enabling them to play a typical Scottish brand of rugby.
It may fit under the umbrella of “organised chaos” but it is based around consistency at the set-piece, quick ball, offloading and occasional bouts of lunacy/genius that are the hallmark of the great Scottish teams we watched growing up. We don’t need a hard Kiwi edge, we need a hard Scottish edge. Vern’s done his homework.
If the stick he offers is being dropped, the carrot is the chance to be in a winning team. It’s hard not to buy into it, but the real test of Cotter’s reign as coach may come next week against his homeland of New Zealand, and how the new-look Scotland copes with the near-inevitable reversal from victory to defeat. If Cotter coaxes an incredibly unlikely result out against the All Blacks, then he really will be the real deal.