Scotland rugby centre Matt Scott today cut straight to the heart of a humiliating 15-21 defeat by Tonga in Aberdeen when he fronted up and admitted: “On the day they wanted it more.”
Scotland failed to even score a try in a match which ultimately cost coach Andy Robinson his job and conceded two touchdowns themselves as Greig Laidlaw had to be relied on for all the home points through five penalties.
Acknowledging that Tonga were hungrier, Scott, from Edinburgh, said: “That is really quite hurting for us but it is the truth.”
The defeat saw Scotland complete a full calendar year without a single home success and it felt incumbent on Scott to say a heartfelt “sorry” that stretched far and wide.
“We feel we have let down friends, family and coaches. We are in a pretty dark place. But we have to look at the game and not just hide away.
“There is no one to blame but ourselves. We had a structure in place to beat them and we had all the coaching we needed. We just didn’t turn up. It’s as simple as that. It’s unfair to put the burden on Andy Robinson’s head.”
In fact, 22-year-old Scott found himself donning a hair shirt seven matches into his Test career in a “blame-me” exercise that ran through the ranks. “It was poor defence, myself included. I really feel sorry for the defence coach,” added Scott. “It was not his fault – it was our fault.
“With one-on-ones I was going too high. We talked about going in low and I do tend to tackle quite high. I didn’t complete tackles as I should have and they got yards from that.
“It was not just me. A lot of guys have to hold their hands up as well. It was really disappointing because a big target before the game was focusing on our tackles.”
Scotland were wiped out in collisions.
“We all knew why we lost. The coaches said at half time if we didn’t up our physicality and match them at the breakdown it was going to be a tough second half and that is exactly what it was. The main thing that went wrong was the tackle area. They had more fight there than us. They made it a scrap. They are a very passionate team.
“There were harsh words spoken afterwards. It was fully deserved. All we can do is apologise to the supporters. We have had fantastic support and not to give them a win is poor on our part. I understand why the supporters are fed up hearing about us falling off tackles and getting systems right.
“We have to go away to our clubs with that as our main focus. We have been focusing on trying to score tries but if we are not getting the ball at rucks and cleaning out guys our attack is not going to be able to do what we want to do.
“It is kind of a vicious circle.
“If we don’t get quick ball from first contact area it is hard to go wide and when we did go wide they came up and put pressure on us. One or two times we did look dangerous out wide but we just did not go there enough. That was a result of not being accurate at contact area.”
Scotland twice rumbled over the Tongan line during the opening half but failed to ground the ball, sometimes rejecting penalty kicks for punts to touch although they did ultimately cap pressure with a three pointer.
“In the first half we could have put a bit of daylight between ourselves and Tonga. If we had got a pushover try or a try from a maul I think we would have settled down. It had us on edge and really galvanised them.
“They are one of the most spirited teams I have played against. When they sensed a historic win they were really tough to beat. If we had scored and converted some of these chances it would have made it easier for ourselves.
“We are going to have to take a bit of stick for the way we played and we are braced for it.
“It is the first time I have been involved in the Scotland set-up where, after we had a bit of an easy time on tour winning all our games, it is now dark times when we have to pull together.
“Guys who were not out there playing for Edinburgh and Glasgow quite rightly think they can do a better job.
“Our positions are under threat as much as the coaches. I have to really work on my game if I am going to keep my place for the Six Nations. Everybody wants to be in your shirt. There is a lot more pressure.”
Scott was one of the Scotland players who came closest to earning pass marks and at least he has some success to draw on.
“We had three wins during the summer tour and it is easy to forget that in moments like this. We have just got to look at these three games and push on to Six Nations because it is all behind us now.
“We want to be a team challenging for the Six Nations. We can’t play like that. So long as we use this to make us better it can be a good thing.
“A lot of us are going back to our clubs where we will try and vent our frustration. I certainly want to get straight back involved with Edinburgh in Connacht on Friday.”
Scotland led 6-3 at half time with two penalties by Laidlaw to one by Fangatapu Apikotoa and it was a hard-earned advantage with Tongan lock Tokoloua Lokotui spending ten minutes in the sin-bin for up-ending Scotland’s best player, Al Kellock, at a line-out.
Another Laidlaw penalty stretched the lead but Lokotui redeemed himself by barging over for a converted try and penalty exchanges followed.
The decisive move saw winger Fetu’u Vainikolo slice through for a try with a further penalty sealing the fate of a Scotland side who played rugby politics by withdrawing Laidlaw for Tom Heathcote so as to commit the stand-off before England, whom he’d represented at age group level, and not even late yellow cards for Nili Latu and Sione Timani could alter the outcome.
In the course of reporting 217 Scotland international matches over 31 years for the Evening News, I have experienced exhilaration topped by a classic case of “we wuz robbed” in losing to the All Blacks in Auckland in 1990 to a setback in Bucharest a year later that wasn’t so clever.
Truly, though, I had never seen anything quite like what was served up on the day Scotland’s rugby team put the “Pit” into Pittodrie.