ON SATURDAY we saw the Jekyll and Hyde face of Scottish rugby.
The first 50 minutes of Scotland’s clash with the Springboks at Murrayfield were riddled with errors and effectively cost the hosts the match, particularly when Mike Blair’s pass was intercepted by South African hooker Adriaan Strauss who went in for his second try of the match.
It was always going to be tough to turn round an 18-point deficit, but when Henry Pyrgos dived over for Scotland’s try from a line-out in a move performed three times successfully by Gala this season, there was a glimpse of hope. The spark had been ignited and for the last half-hour it was all Scotland as they pummelled the Springbok defence to try and stage a big comeback.
All that effort was much appreciated by the crowd, but it ultimately led to no points in the final 30 minutes, mirroring the final half-hour against the All Blacks six days earlier when the Scots were nilled in the final stages of that game.
So who were the players who came out of Saturday’s match with credit? First on my credit sheet would be David Denton, the back row forward who was drafted into the team when Ross Rennie dislocated his shoulder against New Zealand. Now there’s a guy who really gave it a go and his workrate was commendable.
I was impressed with Stuart Hogg. His kicking game was good and he looked comfortable under the high ball.
Talking to him after the match it was interesting to hear him speak about the way he plays these days. He has a much more mature outlook on matters, gained by his experience at this level, and he is playing a more measured game.
“I need to be sensible about when to have a run or not. Today there were no chances for me to have a real go, but I’ll keep working away and hopefully they’ll come one day,” Hogg commented.
As usual, I write this column before the team selection is out, but who will be likely starters against Tonga at Aberdeen?
There are calls for Andy Robinson to tinker a bit with the side, particularly in the backline, and I would certainly like to see Pyrgos get his first start.
He’s a hungry young man with good current form and he may well be the person to take over from Blair as Scotland’s number 9.
Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne and Peter Murchie are itching to be included, as are Lee Jones and Tommy Seymour, and the likely pair who may find their positions under threat would be Sean Lamont and Nick De Luca, who have scored just nine tries between them in a total of 107 outings. Compare that tally with Tim Visser who has crossed the line four times in his four matches so far.
This is Scotland’s last game before Robinson brings his troops into the Six Nations Championship.
It’s an opportunity for all 23 in the squad to stake their claim for honours next season and they know a big win against Tonga will help. Don’t forget, though, that a few months ago Tonga were higher than Scotland in the IRB rankings.
We have played Tonga four times – twice in capped games. We have won comfortably in all the matches, scoring more than 40 points in three of them, and last year our A team hammered them at Netherdale, so there is no reason to expect anything less than a convincing victory.