|Rugby World Cup 2019 Pool A: Scotland v Samoa|
|Venue: Misaki Stadium, Kobe Date: Monday, 30 September Kick-off: 11:15 BST|
|Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and Radio Scotland, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app|
If the Scotland management are still unclear, or are unwilling to explain, the reasons why their team repeatedly starts poorly in major Test matches, there was at least some clarity on a few issues from Grant Gilchrist in Kobe on Wednesday.
Gilchrist, a mixture of dejection and determination after Sunday’s pummelling by Ireland, was asked if every last one of the Scotland players should now be in fear of losing their place against Samoa in Monday’s must-win contest at the Misaki Stadium. The second-row nodded and said, “Definitely.” And he said a lot more besides.
“There’s no doubt that when you play as badly as that then everyone’s head is on the block – and so it should be,” Gilchrist went on.
“I’m not going to sit here and say anybody deserves their place in the team when they’re involved in something like that. It’ll be up to Gregor [Townsend, the head coach] who he selects and the boys who played are under no illusions – we’re not in a great position.”
‘We all took a beating on Sunday’
It’s hard to know just yet what Townsend is thinking ahead of Samoa (he’s not due to speak until later in the week) but the nuclear option – some would call it the sensible option – would be to dynamite the line-up that failed so dismally against Ireland in Yokohama.
The enforced changes are obvious enough. Jamie Ritchie and George Horne will come into the squad for the stricken Hamish Watson and Ali Price, but the rest? Tommy Seymour will be feeling the heat from Darcy Graham. John Barclay and Ryan Wilson will now be challenged by Magnus Bradbury and Blade Thomson.
Will Townsend ring those and other changes or give the bulk of his starters a shot at redemption against Samoa? There’s no doubt that after the dismal opening to the World Cup, he is now under more stress than at any time in his coaching life.
The squad had what sounds like a brutal honesty session on Tuesday. Gilchrist called it “uncomfortable” but necessary.
“Let’s get it all out on the table,” he said. “Let’s fire the bullets and take the bullets like men. We’re professional rugby players. We try not to, but we have the odd bad game. It’s a fact of life. It’s about taking it on the chin and working out how you can be better collectively and individually.
“The last couple of days were really hard. You’re playing the game over in your head desperate to have played it better and done things differently. You’re in a dark place, but you have to get your head up and realise this World Cup is alive for us. There is a huge opportunity on Monday for us to right our wrongs.
“We all took a beating on Sunday. We’d put a lot of work in behind the scenes for the last four or five months and there’s no surprise that in the 48 hours afterwards you are going to be in a dark place because everybody is rightly annoyed and a bit pissed off with how we played, but nobody is more annoyed and pissed off than the guys who have been grafting for the last four months.
“What we set out to achieve, we didn’t do – that’s the worst thing. We made a commitment to each other to do x, y and z. To me, that’s the biggest thing – what you commit to your team-mates. The situation is clear as day. We have to win three Test matches [against Samoa, Russia and Japan].”
‘People are questioning whether we care’
Since Sunday, Townsend and two of his assistants, Danny Wilson and Matt Taylor, have been quizzed about Scotland’s propensity to leak points early in big games, a trait that reoccurred with a vengeance against Ireland with one try being conceded inside six minutes and a second one being shipped after 14 minutes.
During Townsend’s reign, in the 11 championship games he’s been involved in (two Six Nations campaigns plus Sunday night in Yokohama), Scotland have conceded tries in the second minute (England 2019), the third minute (France 2018) , the sixth minute (Wales 2018, Ireland 2019), the ninth minute (England 2019), the 10th minute (Ireland 2019), the 12th minute (Wales 2018), the 13th (France 2019, England 2019, Wales 2019) and the 14th minute (Italy 2018, Ireland 2019).
The coaches either had no answer to the question or had it and weren’t prepared to divulge it. They play Samoa next, a side that took five tries off them the last time they met – a 44-38 victory for Scotland at Murrayfield in Townsend’s fourth game in charge, just a week before his team came close to beating the All Blacks.
The meeting before that was at the 2015 World Cup, when Scotland just about saw them off 36-33. The one before that was in the summer of 2013, when Samoa won 27-17 in a quadrangular tournament in Durban. The cumulative try count in those games is 12-10 in Samoa’s favour, albeit this current Samoan side doesn’t look anything like as strong as their earlier incarnations.
The loss in Durban was Gilchrist’s second cap. “They will want to have a go at us physically and they will want to have a go at some pick-and-goes,” the lock said. “We know where we have to be better. We had a pretty clear review so now it’s about putting it into action. If we don’t do it on the training pitch it’s not going to just miraculously happen on Monday.
“We have to put in the hard yards and when we get out there, especially that first 10 minutes, it has to be through the roof. We’re not going to be kidding ourselves this is going to be easy. These are going to be three of the hardest matches we could face.”
Gilchrist is clear on what needs to happen in those early minutes in Kobe, a simplification of the game-plan, an introduction of some hard grunt to establish control and restore confidence.
“There will be certain ways we can get ourselves into the game pretty early, and I think across the board we will be looking to do that,” he said. “From a front-five point of view, there’s always a ruck to hit, there’s always a maul to hit. We need to make sure that our first actions across the XV are more aggressive and more energetic than we have ever shown before.
“People are questioning whether we care and whether we are aggressive enough, and that’s hurtful so we need to go out and really show that. It is not just about getting angry and going out and hitting things. Quite often you miss tackles when guys try to be [too] aggressive because they are not technically good tackles.”
It’s about having an edge, he says. This has been, and will continue to be, a savagely difficult week for the Scots. Monday can’t come quickly enough for all of them.
My Scotland XV
Who would you pick for Scotland’s second Rugby World Cup match against Samoa? Select and share your XV.