Scotland’s 16-34 loss to South Africa was both a reminder of how far Scotland have come under Vern Cotter’s leadership and how far they have to go to pose a serious challenge to the real titans of global rugby union. Despite what Scotland winger Tim Visser claimed in pre-match interviews, this Scotland side had the distinct feel of a second string team and this was reflected in some very noticeable moments of technical inadequacy.
However, one thing that cannot be faulted was the effort, graft and application of the Scottish players. Throughout the game heads never dropped, long chases were never abandoned, and tackles were thrown in with the kind of commitment that Scottish rugby crowds love to see. This attitude reflects the ethic that Cotter has instilled in his team and stands in stark contrast to Scotland teams of the past who might well have wilted in the face of such obviously superior opposition. Sadly for Scotland fans, heart and endeavour are no substitute for the kind of obvious world class talent that South Africa have in such abundance. As the score-line reflects, Scotland were simply outclassed by a South African side that appear to be growing in stature as this tournament progresses.
Ominously for whoever South Africa will face in the knockout stages, the Springboks appear to have hit their stride after a disappointing yet entertaining opening loss against Japan. That said, Scotland showed flashes of the promise that has seen them score 11 tries so far in this World Cup and hand out thrashings to the USA and Japan, two very competent teams.
There are some questions, however, over coach Vern Cotter’s team selection. Some questioned, even before the game, whether it was right that Scotland fielded a weakened side when their past few games had hinted at the possibility of a famous win and a first victory against the Springboks outside of Scotland. Obviously it would have been a huge moment for Scottish rugby but those of a more pragmatic outlook will acknowledge that a Scottish victory was always unlikely against a rejuvenated Springbok side and that, by resting certain key players, Cotter has given Scotland a fantastic chance to qualify for the knockout stages if they defeat Samoa this Saturday.
Qualification for the knockout stage would be both a massive vindication for Cotter’s selection policy and equally a huge marker for this evolving Scotland side to lay down. In following the highly successful model of attacking, positive rugby that has served Glasgow Warriors so well in recent years, Scotland have shown that they have the capacity to run the world’s top sides close and well deserve their place among the Tier 1 nations.
In addition, this new look Scotland side is full of the kind of scintillating talent that will attract new fans to Scottish rugby and keep existing fans on the edge of their seats. Stuart Hogg is more than capable of bringing some much needed X-factor to the Scottish backline; Mark Bennett looks to be every bit an international try-scoring centre Scotland have been crying out for, and Finn Russell is developing into a wonderfully creative and daring fly-half.
All in all, everything looks bright for the future of Scottish rugby. The one thing Vern Cotter must be wary of is reading too much into poor results and allowing short-term panic to influence his long term strategy. This Scotland team is still very far from the finished article and have a lot of developing to do and inevitably they will face the kind of heavy defeats that might breed talk of a change of system, but compromise would be a discredit to Cotter’s promising beginning. The South Africa result may have been a disappointing one but as any rugby fan will know if at first you don’t succeed, try, convert and try again.
Image courtesy of Edinburgh Blog