SCOTLAND head coach Andy Robinson has called on his side to retain their belief as they look to put their RBS Six Nations campaign back on track after suffering more disappointment in their defeat to Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Having been punished for a lack of composure at key moments in their opening defeat against England, Scotland were again their own worst enemy as a calamitous start to the second half in Cardiff proved crucial in their 27-13 loss.
The scores were tied at 3-3 at the break but Chris Cusiter’s failure to gather Rhys Priestland’s second-half kick-off set the tone for a period of play in which Scotland shipped three tries in just 13 minutes.
Cusiter’s initial error gifted Wales the field position from which to spring wing Alex Cuthbert through Greig Laidlaw’s weak tackle for the opening score. And there was worse to come for Robinson’s side as Nick De Luca and Rory Lamont were both sin-binned, and Wales struck as Leigh Halfpenny, who claimed an individual haul of 22 points, landed his second penalty and crossed for two converted tries to open up a 27-6 lead and effectively end the game as a contest.
Edinburgh captain Laidlaw managed to sneak his way over for a consolation score, and ensure Scotland did not extend their tryless drought to five games, but the defeat was a fourth in a row for the Scots, who welcome France to Murrayfield in a fortnight.
However, Robinson feels the belief is still there among his squad, although he rued their poor start to the second half and their failure to finish off a 21-phase attack at the end of the opening half when Edinburgh prop Allan Jacobsen knocked on.
He said: “For me it’s about the team being able to keep its belief in what it’s trying to do. I think that throughout there is still belief there. It was shown in that 20 minutes when we went down to 27-6 but you’ve got to take your chances.
“Just before half-time, there was a clear-cut opportunity for us and we just knocked it on getting close to the line and that’s what games can change on. We must not get away from the fact the effort that’s been shown there was very, very good. It’s important we build on that and perform that way every time.”
And Robinson, whose Six Nations record while in charge of Scotland shows just two wins from 12 games, also refused to criticise De Luca and Lamont for the needless yellow cards they received for tackling players off the ball.
He said: “The guys did not deliberately get sin-binned, but that’s what happens in the game. Wales exploited the space really well and kept hold of the ball.”
Robinson, pictured right, also confirmed that defence coach Graham Steadman is set to leave the Scotland set-up at the end of the season after four years, while morning reports also suggested that attack coach Gregor Townsend will not have his contract renewed at the end of the tournament.
Ospreys’ Australian coaching director Scott Johnson will take up the role of senior assistant prior to the summer tour to Australia, Fiji and Samoa.
Robinson said: “Graham is seeing out his contract. He hasn’t been [offered a new one]. I don’t think it’s right for me to go on about it here.”
Wales coach Warren Gatland admits the excitement is already building ahead of his side’s Triple Crown tilt against England at Twickenham a week on Saturday after completing stage two of a potential sweep of the Home Unions with the defeat of Scotland. The win means Wales’ title ambitions remain firmly on track, and victory at Twickenham secure a third Triple Crown in eight seasons.
Gatland, who memorably guided Wales to a first win at Twickenham for 20 years in his first game in charge in 2008, said: “It is always nice when you go into your third game and you playing for a Triple Crown isn’t it? If you can’t get motivated to go to Twickenham playing for a Triple Crown and playing against England you should not be putting the jersey on.
“We are going to be pretty excited. The guys will work hard this week, we have a couple of days off but they are in on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and we will do some work on conditioning, some power and endurance stuff to make sure we get ourselves mentally right.
“England will be tough to beat up there but we have everything to play for, we have the Triple Crown to play for and it’s exciting for us.”
Wales managed the victory despite having captain Sam Warburton ruled out before kick-off with the dead leg he suffered in Dublin last week, with Scarlets back-rower Aaron Shingler performing admirably in his place on debut, and lock Bradley Davies suspended following his tip tackle in the same game.
They also suffered injuries to giant wing George North (ankle) and Huw Bennett (calf) but it was not enough to knock Wales out of their stride.
And Gatland, who is hopeful of having North and Warburton, as well as hooker Matthew Rees and flanker Justin Tipuric available to face England, was impressed with how his side dealt with those obstacles. “We expected Scotland to be a lot tougher than maybe the public did. If you look at their numbers last week in terms of territory, possession and line breaks, they should have won against England.
“So we are very pleased with the result given the disruption of losing Sam Warburton, and having to adjust to the loss of Bradley Davies during the week, as well as being without three or four key players.
“That is a sign of the maturity of this team at the moment. They can handle these disruptions and it doesn’t seem to affect them psychologically, they just go out and play the game so there are some very pleasing aspects on and off the field with this team at the moment.”