Matt Scott believes a fortnight’s break before re-entering the cauldron of Six Nations rugby can give the Scotland team a chance to re-group and grab some credits from the tournament.
As Scotland licked wounds in the aftermath of yet another heavy home defeat by England, 0-20, the defiant Edinburgh centre insisted all was not yet lost so far as making a mark was concerned with a visit to Italy next on the schedule. “It would be hard to come straight back into camp and have another game. (But) we have another week to heal the body and come in fresh,” said Scott.
In the case of Scott, who completed 72 minutes on his first start since breaking a hand in November, there are at least some fond memories to inspire when heading for Rome though emphasis, typically, was placed on the team aspect of that impending visit.
“It’s a massive game next . A win would really give us a boost coming into another home game (against France).
“It’s one of our biggest games in the Championship; we’ve seen it before with Scotland teams going to Rome needing to win.
“It’ll be high pressure and we’ve just got to play the rugby we know we can and not get drawn into a sort of high pace game. We’ll play our own game and impose ourselves on them because if they get their dander up . . . ” he added in appearing to fear looseness replacing structure.
One of the rare crumbs of comfort to emerge from Saturday’s one-sided contest in which it took Scotland 33 minutes to even reach the opposition “22” was the return of Scott who, having got that outing under his belt, at least has pedigree when it comes to facing Italy.
“We beat them twice last year (in the Six Nations and on tour in South Africa) and I scored tries both times. We didn’t win a lot of games last year and that was something.
“Getting almost a full 80 minutes was one positive for me and if it is deemed that I play for Edinburgh on Friday (at Connacht) to get more game time I wouldn’t say no.
“At the moment I’m feeling pretty battered and bruised but I do just want to play rugby.”
Another feeling battered and bruised would be Scots debutant Chris Fusaro whose performance on the flank was given the thumbs up by Scott, who said: “We were not putting their runners down first time which would have given Chris a chance to snaffle ball.
“We didn’t get as many turnovers but he worked extremely hard.”
It’s true the English were knocking men back in tackles but perhaps the best overall summing up, though, came from the honest – as ever – Chris Cusiter.
The substitute scrum half admitted: “Our set-piece was malfunctioning, especially the line-out. You are not going to win many games with a line-out that doesn’t work.
“Also, we were committing too many players to rucks and not getting fast ball.
“Nothing goes perfectly in Test match rugby but you have got to be able to fix things.
“At 13-0 down at half-time we were still in the game but we coughed up ball when we were in possession.”
From interim coach Scott Johnson there was the now customary declaration that better days lie ahead.
The three worst home defeats in the history of the fixture have come in the last 12 years, but only set against 3-29 in 2002 and 13-35 in 2004 there was statistical improvement, at least! Compounding the latest debacle which started with Ryan Wilson giving away a simple penalty by playing the ball when blatantly offside (fortunately Owen Farrell missed as he was to do regularly), is a growing lack of tries.
It is now four matches since Scotland crossed the whitewash during which England have claimed two, Ireland three, Australia two and South Africa four. Since Johnson took over the reins Scotland have scored 13 and leaked 21 but six of these touchdowns were against Japan and four against Italy, the only teams to have been beaten in the Scots’ last ten matches.
Only the harshest critic would lay the blame at the Scottish back-line on this occasion, though. Okay, there was the usual surfeit of aimless kicks but this mostly stemmed from sheer pressure as the forwards wilted at the coal face.
Added to the five line-outs lost against the throw in Ireland were another five while the 17 penalties conceded count was a worthy rival as ‘most depressing statistic’ of a match where England were entitled to beat themselves up for leaving so many points on the worm infested pitch.
Here – and as an aside – organisers did the spectacle no favours with a pre-match assembly amounting to two massed bands, a rock group and singers, flag bearers for two giant pennants plus a banner, mascots and even fire-ballers.
Somehow they managed to squeeze the players on to this disintegrating surface and the wonder was nobody organised a re-enactment of the Charge of the Light Brigade to eliminate what was left of the grass!
Back to the rugby and while Dave Denton rampaged on scraps of possession Jim Hamilton more than once piled in to the side of a ruck conceding needless penalties.
The irony was that Hamilton, responsible for calling the shambolic line-out, remained on the pitch longer than Denton, arguably Scotland’s best player. Also in that second half Ally Dickinson emerged from the bench and promptly announced himself with a knock on and, after Mike Brown had added to Luther Burrell’s first-half try while Alex Dunbar was in the sin-bin, the minutes passed slowly indeed.
Somehow, Scotland stretched incredulity to near breaking point by avoiding the mother and father of all hidings and – to be fair – there was some heroic defence even if it was the second time in four matches that the home scoreboard operator wasn’t troubled.
The banishment of Kelly Brown continued to baffle as a selection call but what if exciting wing prospect Dougie Fife can grab a try for Edinburgh on Friday which would mean five in as many league games – enough to merit a run?
Not under this erratic regime where experimenting was deemed to be over – though Saturday brought in a fifth different back row in as many outings and not for the better although new cap Fusaro is worth retaining.
Coach Johnson is fond of his one-liners and often takes flippancy to the offside line when defending decisions. However, if the eminently quotable Aussie, who does deserve credit for unfailingly fronting up, continues to insist the team are heading in the right direction – “These guys are going to develop. They are not finished articles,” he said – then there will soon be only one piece of colloquial Scots that is appropriate in response and which he will become increasingly familiar with.
It is, of course, ‘Aye, right!’.
England: Tries: Burrell, Brown. Conversions: Farrell (2). Drop goal: Care. Penalty: Farrell.
Scotland: Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Dunbar, Scott, Lamont, Weir, Laidlaw (captain), Grant, Ford, Low, Swinson, Hamilton, Wilson, Denton, Fusaro. Subs: Lawson (for Ford 43), Dickinson (for Grant 43), Cross (for Low 67), J Gray (for Hamilton 69), Beattie (for Denton, 53), Cusiter (for Laidlaw 65), Taylor (for Scott 72), Evans (for Seymour 65).
Yellow card: Dunbar (51).
England: Brown, Nowell, Burrell, Twelvetrees, May, Farrell, Care, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Launchbury, Courtney Lawes, Tom Wood, B Vunipolo, Robshaw (captain). Subs: T Youngs (for Hartley 70), M Vunipola (for Marler 65), Thomas (for Cole 76), Attwood (for Launchbury 63), Morgan (for B Vunipola 70), Dickson (for Care 74), Barritt (for Burrell 74) , Goode (for May 74).
Referee: Jérôme Garces (France).