Scots sweat over Russell and Gilchrist
Cotter awaits news on duo after US win
THE Scotland camp faces an anxious 24 hours before learning whether Finn Russell will be fit to face South Africa on Saturday after the playmaker injured an ankle during yesterday’s 39-16 win over the United States.
Russell was helped off the pitch in the second half and was later seen clutching an ice pack to his leg. Grant Gilchrist is the other main injury concern after being forced off midway through the first half with a suspected upper-leg injury. True to habit, however, Vern Cotter, the head coach, refused to speculate on the likelihood that either the lock or the stand-off would miss the potential Pool B decider against the Springboks.
“We’ll have to wait 24 hours before we get anything on Finn and Grant,” Cotter said. “Both of those players have knocks and bumps, so we’ll need to have a look.
“Grant, we’re not sure yet. It might be an adductor injury, we’re not sure. You have to wait 24 hours, I’m sorry, it’s never very accurate right now.”
After a patchy first half which ended with the Americans 13-6 ahead, Scotland put in an excellent second 40, scoring five tries to claim a bonus point for the second game in succession. The result takes them back to the top of the pool, in which each team has now played two and has two to play.
“We’re very happy to get the win and the bonus point,” Cotter added. “We weren’t particularly accurate in the first 40 – scoring early in the second half got us back on track. We managed to build through a reasonably difficult day of rugby with a win.
“We found a way to win. Seven down at half-time, it’s always nice to turn things around. It shows that the players are finding a way to win, which is important. We managed to wear down the States team, who were well prepared and very physical.
“Look, we’ve got through those two [matches]. We’ve played some reasonable rugby, adapted to difficult situations. The guys can take a bit of self-belief into the next two games.”
Having also lost to Samoa, the Americans look set to finish bottom of the pool. Their captain, Chris Wyles, accepted that, while his own side had competed well, Scotland had simply been superior.
“They took hold of the second half and won it comfortably,” he said. “We simply weren’t good enough in the second half. I don’t think the scoreline is that harsh.”
TEN out of ten. Scotland displayed similar flaws against the United States yesterday to those they had shown against Japan four days earlier, but you cannot complain with the basic statistics: two games have each yielded five tries and five points, meaning the team are back on top of Pool B.
They looked more vulnerable in the first half against the Americans than they had done in their opening game, and went in at half-time 13-6 down after a performance that was defective in most departments of the game. But they rectified their faults more quickly than they had done against Japan, effectively settling the outcome of the match with two tries in rapid succession after the restart.
Vern Cotter’s team now have a threepoint lead over South Africa, whom they meet in Newcastle on Saturday before rounding off their pool programme against Samoa in the same city a week later. As things stand they could lose to the Springboks yet still end that game on top of the group, but the aim, of course, will be to qualify for the quarter-finals by the most direct route – winning all four games. The South Africans will have noted the vulnerability in Scotland’s scrum in that first half, though they will also have seen how quickly it returned to far greater efficiency once Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel, the two replacement props, came on at the start of the second half. While those two changes made a difference, the players who had underperformed in the first 40 were also able to respond to some choice words from their head coach during the interval to play with far greater precision and efficiency after the break.
Until they were killed off, the US looked far livelier than they had done in losing to Samoa a week earlier. They were on top at the breakdown as well as the set scrum during the first half, and exposed some weaknesses that had not been seen in the Scotland defence of late. The outcome was that lead at the interval, achieved thanks to two penalties from Dublin-born playmaker Aj MacGinty and a worryingly straightforward converted try from Titi Lamositele. A penalty apiece from Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg were all that Scotland had for their efforts at the break, though Hogg should have put Tim Visser in for a try down the left, instead sending his pass too low for the winger to collect.
At least that chance and others showed that Scotland were not far away from getting tries on the board, and that improvement after the break soon bore fruit. Visser was first to touch down, this time gathering a pass from Hogg to score at the end of a move which had begun with a Ryan Wilson half-break. That left Scotland two points behind at 11-13, but they were soon in the lead with another try. Russell slipped through the first line of defence, feinted a pass to his right but then spun round to find Sean Maitland inside him. The winger finished the job from five metres out, and this time the stand-off converted.
Ten minutes into the half, a MacGinty penalty made it 18-16 – a sign that the Eagles were far from finished. Josh Strauss came close to scoring again after a Swinson chargedown, but was held up a metre short. That third try was only delayed, however, as a move infield from a lineout, again with Strauss prominent, culminated in Nel forcing his way over. Squad captain Greig Laidlaw, just on for Pyrgos, added the two points.
Fraser Brown was also on by that point, replacing Wilson at openside. Cotter had put a lot of faith in the hooker’s ability to deputise in the No.7 position, though he had not planned to put it to the test as early as the second pool match, having originally selected John Hardie before a failed head-injury test ruled the flanker out. Scotland took that 25-16 lead into the final quarter, and continued their search for the fourth try that would produce the bonus point. It came with quarter of an hour to spare when Matt Scott, not long off the bench, took a pass from the base of a ruck and glided past a couple of tiring defenders. Laidlaw’s conversion made it 32-16, and, just as they had done against Japan, Scotland had proven themselves to be fitter.
Duncan Weir made it five tries in the last two minutes, and Laidlaw converted to complete the scoring. Scotland will need to keep improving if they are to beat the Springboks, but if they need any reassurance about how well they have done so far, a look at the Pool B table should do the trick.
IN DOUBT: Finn Russell, centre, injured his ankle against the USA yesterday
SLAM DUNC: Duncan Weir scores Scotland’s fifth and final try during their comeback victory over USA at Elland Road