Tim Visser believes a massive improvement from the forwards is the key to Scotland’s rugby team rediscovering a try-scoring touch.
For the second time in the viagogo Autumn Test series, the Scots crossed the whitewash five times when dispatching Tonga 37-21 at Kilmarnock.
The series also included a win over Argentina and a narrow loss to New Zealand but the striking statistic is 11 tries scored in this period and, overall. 17 notched in new coach Vern Cotter’s fledgling seven-match reign. This compares to 34 tries scored in 35 matches under previous head coach, Andy Robinson.
Winger Visser, no slouch himself when it comes to breaking opposition defences but kept in check on Saturday when Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Blair Cowan, Geoff Cross and Stuart Hogg were on the mark, said: “Our forwards were phenomenal. They dominated the line-out and dominated the scrum. It made our job as backs so much easier.”
Visser, called up for the injured Sean Maitland, was one of a handful of survivors from the team beaten by Tonga two years ago in a result that cost Robinson his job. He added: “It was great especially after the last time we played them.
“Last time we were in a similar position at half-time but in showing how much we have advanced as a team we put them away. Vern really just encourages us to play. We’d gone into our shell a bit including the last match against Tonga.
“At half time he said ‘keep the ball and put some points on these guys’.
“He really believes in us going out and trying to play, meaning we can enjoy ourselves. It’s good to get that from a coach.
“It’s great also to see youngsters not just with confidence but also playing the game in the right way ... fresh blood not just coming through and wanting to learn but drive the team forward. Everyone is mobile, everyone is getting around creating real opportunities and tiring teams out
“The way we are playing is something we haven’t done for a long time. It’s certainly the best team I’ve played in and there is a completely different feeling even from the summer tour. The power in midfield creating turnovers changed the game completely. We were phenomenal in midfield, particularly Alex (Dunbar) and the increased line speed in defence meant Tonga did not get opportunities like they did when we played them in Aberdeen.
“Tommy Seymour scored in every Autumn Test and pace is the key. Hoggy (Stuart Hogg) puts such real pace on the ball and my job is to keep up with that.”
Honest soldier that he is, Visser would probably admit that if there was a question mark over his talent it lay in defence.
So, to be part of the first Scottish team to keep a clean sheet in try terms on home soil since Ireland visited for a 2011 World Cup warm up fixture was important to long term ambitions.
“It would have been very easy to see these Autumn internationals fly past but, luckily, due to an injury, I managed to get a chance. I felt I put my hand up and did some good stuff and worked hard for the team.
“I know I can score tries (seven from 15 Tests) but although I nearly got away on one occasion it was the big tackles, especially near the end when I got myself in good position, that was satisfying.
“I’ll keep doing that and hopefully more tries will come.”
The Scots qualified Dutchman was also used in an unorthodox attacking move when both he and centre Dunbar were added to an attacking line-out. It was an example of coach Cotter thinking outside the box and but for a mishandle by Dunbar a try would surely have occurred. “That was an example of Vern trying to manipulate a defence,” said Visser, aware that Scotland could have had several more tries.
After he had gathered an awkward bounce only a desperate ankle tackle reeled him in and Greig Laidlaw took his eye off the ball just before the interval and would otherwise have been clean through. But, overall, there was so much to enthuse over in a game which saw rookie Test referee JP Doyle appear more intent on impressing an assessor in the stand during the biggest assignment of his career than cultivating a flowing spectacle through benefit of the doubt decisions.
Visser wishes the RBS Six Nations was just around the corner rather than having to wait until February while clearly relishing an intense Edinburgh programme in which an unbeaten European record will look to be extended and Glasgow encountered home and away.
“France away is always tough but always fun. The atmosphere is great and the pitch fantastic. We needed a springboard into the Six Nations and we have that,” said Visser.
Adding to intrigue surrounding that Paris opener on February 7 is the fact Les Tricolours have just lost to an Argentina side walloped by Scotland.
Unable or unwilling to roll out their driving maul against the All Blacks the Scots used it to devastating effect at Rugby Park and the ploy led to Cowan notching his first Test try, converted by Laidlaw, after Latiume Fosita had slotted the first of his four penalties.
A long range converted try from Hogg after Dunbar had forced an error put the Scots back in front and from 32 minutes onwards they held the lead. In contrast with early kicks, Laidlaw was quick to grab penalty points on offer.
Ahead 25-12 including an Dunbar try entering the last quarter, further touchdowns from Geoff Cross and Tommy Seymour meant Scotland had not enjoyed a bigger winning margin since the 41-0 rout of Canada back in 2008.
Tattered Tonga had been made to sacrifice shape and how hungry and sometimes even silky Scotland cashed in.
Scotland: Tries: Cowan, Hogg, Cross, Dunbar, Seymour. Conversions: Laidlaw (3). Penalties: Laidlaw (2)
Tonga: Penalties: Fosita (4).
Scotland: Hogg, Seymour, Lamont, Dunbar, Visser, Russell, Laidlaw (captain), Dickinson, Ford, Cross, R Gray, J Gray, Harley, Beattie, Cowan. Substitutes: Brown for Ford 71m, Reid for Dickinson 65m, Grant for Cross 77m, Low for Gray, 74m, Strokosch for Beattie 65m; Cusiter for Laidlaw 73m, Weir for Russell 78m, Taylor for Lamont 74m.
Tonga: Lilo, Halaifonua, Piutau, Paea, Vainikolo, Fosita, Takulua, Mailau, Lutui, Fa’anunu, Lokotui, Tuineau, Kalamafoni, Ma’afu, Latu (captain). Substitutes: Taione for Lutui 55m, Fa’aoso for Tuineau 65m, T-Pole for Ma’afu 65m, Palu for Takulua 69m, Morath for Fosita 69m, Piukala for Halaifonua, 67m. Unused – Lea, Puafisi.
Discipline: Yellow cards for Dunbar (dangerous tackle), Latu (ruck obstruction).
Referee: JP Doyle (England)