Scotland coaches 'half-considered letting Samoa score in Rugby World Cup bonus-point hunt'

Scotland star man Jamie Ritchie puts in a tackle on Samoa centre Alapati Leiua in Kobe on Monday. Picture: Getty ImagesScotland star man Jamie Ritchie puts in a tackle on Samoa centre Alapati Leiua in Kobe on Monday. Picture: Getty Images
Scotland star man Jamie Ritchie puts in a tackle on Samoa centre Alapati Leiua in Kobe on Monday. Picture: Getty Images
For a defence coach there can’t be a better feeling than seeing a zero next to the opposition team’s name at full-time but Matt Taylor confessed yesterday that there was a moment late in Monday’s 34-0 win over Samoa that he felt willing to sacrifice the ‘bagel’ in what was becoming a tense chase for the all-important fourth try.

“There was a period when they [Samoa] were attacking our tryline, I don’t know if there were many minutes left on the clock, maybe eight or ten, and there was a suggestion that if they scored it might be better for us [to get back up the pitch],” said Taylor with a relaxed smile of hindsight at the squad hotel in Kobe yesterday.

“The way it worked out we defended pretty well and managed to get the ball and get back there, but it’s hard isn’t it? You’re out there to defend your try line and it means something. You don’t want to give up an easy try. I’m just glad it worked out the way it did, but there was a period thinking ‘if they score we can get back up the other end quickly’, but it’s nice to have a zero.”

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Just over a week ago Taylor fronted the media after the four tries to zip 27-3 loss to Ireland and he was asked yesterday if he felt it was sometimes the case that attack coaches get the credit for wins and defence coaches the blame for defeats.

“Everyone’s happy in the team,” was the assistant coach’s diplomatic reply. “Certainly after last week when we didn’t put in that performance that we were happy with and proud of, we were happy to do that this week, people were coming up and sending messages saying they were proud of Scotland.

“We watched a film during the week and it was like a video of all the young kids back in Scotland watching us play, and that was motivating for us.”

The performance at a hot and steamy Kobe Misaki Stadium was far from perfect, against opposition who were made to look quite ordinary for long spells, but yesterday’s match review session was certainly a less stomach-churning experience than the last one as Scotland finally got up and running in this World Cup and back into the chase for a top-two spot in Pool A.

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“From the first lineout we got off the line, we double-hit [Samoa] and knocked them back,” said Taylor. “I think we took the stuffing out of them a little bit.

“It’s exactly what we needed to do and it was great the boys managed to do that early in the game and set a platform for the rest of the game.

“You usually have a feeling in the first five or ten minutes whether the boys are zoned in and that was really good. We spoke most of the week about that. It was a tough week last week so it was good we managed to start the game in the right mental space and right mindset.”

It was the first time Scotland had ‘nilled’ the opposition during Taylor’s time as national defence coach since the 29-0 Six Nations win over Italy in Vern Cotter’s final match in charge.

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“It is very satisfying when you are a defence coach and manage to keep an opposition scoreless and keep the sheet clean, it’s very satisfying,” he said.

“Sometimes games go your way and sometimes they don’t. It was really good this we put in a performance we could be proud of. Sometimes things are not as bad as they seem, and sometimes they are not as good as they seem. It is just having a balance.”

Monday didn’t quite make up for the crushing disappointment of the Ireland performance but Taylor insists the focus must now be forward-looking.

“I’m not sure why we didn’t perform last week; we went into that [Ireland] game feeling we were in a really good space and we didn’t perform.

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“Sometimes you just can’t put a finger on it. I’m glad that game is over and now it is about making sure we turn up and do that every game.

“We’re on the dancefloor, we’re back in the competition, and we have to make sure we do it for the next two games.”

The performance of the back row was a stand-out against Samoa, with rave reviews in particular reserved for Jamie Ritchie’s barnstorming efforts on his comeback from a tournament-threatening cheek injury.

“I think the back row did a superb job,” said former Scotland A flanker Taylor. “There was a really good balance. We had some really big guys in there. I thought Jamie was outstanding, as was Magnus [Bradbury] and Blade [Thomson].

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“Jamie is an excellent defensive player and the other two are very good defensive players too, but they give you a bit more of a carry. The balance was really good which helped our overall game.”

Our Japan 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage is brought to you in association with Castle Water and on Twitter @CastleWaterLtdFollow Duncan Smith at the World Cup in Japan on Twitter @Duncan_Smith