Scots sweat over Rus­sell and Gilchrist

Cotter awaits news on duo af­ter US win

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - STU­ART BATH­GATE AT EL­LAND ROAD

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

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