By Alan Dymock
SOMETHING WAS wrong. It did not sit right. Scotland were heading into a game off the back of a colossal All Black drubbing and they were…confident.
While South Africa sent the walls shuddering, as they marched into Murrayfield, the fans in tartan were jovial, nay optimistic, and all at once setting themselves up for a fall. Somehow everyone believed that Scotland could take on a thundering herd of African hulks. And win.
I wanted to believe. We all wanted to believe. However the problem was that the Scottish players also believed enough to charge forlornly into the muscular green mass, unaware of the violent, repellent thump waiting for them.
So I sat there, taking notes as the brutal, naked aggression that unfolded. I flinched, but the pen kept going.
The exercise was designed in a way that I could take the notes afterwards and argue with myself, asserting that the heat-of-the-moment observations were easily explained and even rectified.
Here are some of those live thoughts:
-Scotland caught between rushing in at runners, defensively, and sitting in behind rather than chasing kicks. Uncertainty over a kicking game with Pat Lambie is apparent.
-There is a huge reliance on Richie Gray carrying in tough corners and this means he is off with a busted nut and Al Kellock is on. Dynamism needed from somewhere.
-Ryan Grant is going from strength to strength.
-Scotland doing nothing about the South Africans lying on the wrong side of the ruck.
-Maybe a bit of disguise would be good, if Robinson was right saying that he would not arm wrestle with the Boks. So far a saddening lack of switches and more than two passes, in front or behind players.
-The penalty count is high on both sides, but Scotland are making life harder by guddling mud, rather than pulling out of rucks and realigning or even committing fully to making a big hit. The trust in the secondary tackler is not there because the opening exchanges have spooked everyone. This is demonstrated by offside penalties.
-Huge respect for David Denton’s stubbornness. Carries ball even though some carries have previously been smashed. He really, really needs to learn how to handle a ball at the back of the scrum, though.
-South Africa look more conditioned. They are prepared to sprint back in threes if there is even a sniff of a turnover kick.
-Time for a defensive shift for Laidlaw, using Sean Lamont in the 10 channel?
-It took 48 minutes, and the introduction of Henry Pyrgos, but tempo and varied angles are the only way to play a team so brutish. He then gets the try because there was little time to wait. More disguise comes from this too. All of a sudden Greig Laidlaw has time and space to throw skip passes and links to Tim Visser and Stuart Hogg.
-Conservatism leads to use of Denton and Lamont. Pace and adventure leads to Visser and Hogg.
-The scrum has roared second-half and much of this comes down to teamwork. Perhaps as the tempo has been raised the SA forwards have drained. A lesson learned far too late. Rope-a-dope, but Scotland were the dopes in the opening half.
-SA made double the tackles, but double the metres. That says a half like the first made Scotland too predictable and too weak in defence. One half poisoned the other.
Forget the lecterns and the independent adjudicator. These observations cannot be explained away. Scotland played South Africa’s game for 50 minutes and only once they realised that barging into beefy Boks was a disastrous plan did they look like scoring.
Verdict: Conservatism and uninspiring play has condemned Scotland to a knee-trembling World Cup draw.