Mike Blair: Second-half display so much better from Cotter's side

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half
Ross Ford and Rob Harley
Ross Ford and Ron Harley are all smiles after Scotland's win over Tonga at Rugby Park

Looking at the score-board, reading 37-12 in Scotland's favour over Tonga, the suggestion is a comfortable win.

In reality, it probably was, but all thanks to a much tidier, accurate and direct second-half performance.

There were hints of deja vu from the loss two years ago, as the first half unravelled. Handling errors, indecision and indiscipline from the home side as the visiting Tongans gained in confidence.

I could see what the Scots were trying to do. They had played a forward-orientated game in the first two matches of the autumn series, running directly from Greig Laidlaw, and it seemed that they were trying to add another building block to their attacking game by also using running options off fly-half Finn Russell.

The problem seemed to be the lines and depth on the outside. Tonga were playing with an aggressive defence, coming hard up off their line and getting in the faces of the Scottish attack.

Scotland 37-12 Tonga highlights

For me, the forwards were too wide and/or too flat; so either the ball was in the air too long from Russell's pass, resulting in a man and ball tackle, or the forward was too flat when up against an organised line, thereby catching the ball on the gain line and at the same time being clobbered in the tackle.

Different methods and styles are used by different teams, which will be affected by speed of ball and the integrity of the defensive line, but I feel that you have two main options.

If there is a solid line of defence, give the ball early to a deeper, well-supported forward, taking the contact on his own terms, so that possession can be maintained and the defensive line can be manipulated.

The other option is the fly-half taking the ball flat to the line from quick ball, against a disorganised defence, and the forward runners doubling up on either side of one defender and playing through the defence.

Mike Blair
From a mixed first half, saved by Stuart Hogg's length-of-the-fielder, Scotland got back in the sheds, said what needed to be said and turned the screw.

In either instance you do not want the ball in the air for long as it enables the defence to 'blitz' the receiving player.

The other issue in the first half, and first two minutes of the second half, was the discipline.

Vern Cotter's team conceded five penalties for not rolling away in the tackle. It is an unforced penalty concession and is a very cheap way of conceding points and territory.

An interesting discussion point on the game is what Scotland tried to do from their first two attacking lineouts. There was front peel and a 10-man special play lineout involving some smart jiggery pokery.

I'm a believer in trying to beat what is in front of you and against a Pacific Island team, I see the strength as being in the set piece and organisation. I don't dispute that if the moves were performed 100% then Scotland would have scored, but I was keen to see a good old fashioned catch-and-drive to put the squeeze on.

Finn Russell
Finn Russell tries to break free against Tonga in the weekend win for Vern Cotter's side

The second half was a much simpler affair. Discipline - better; Handling - better; Composure - better; Directness - direct. Oh, and didn't the lineout function brilliantly in attack and defence.

The forwards did the hard graft, running off Laidlaw, getting everything moving forward. And Finn Russell, taking the ball on the front foot, showed his range of skills.

From a mixed first half, saved by Stuart Hogg's length-of-the-fielder, Scotland got back in the sheds, said what needed to be said and turned the screw.

This was the difference from two years previously, they were able to fix problems, adapt and overcome.

A young, talented team learning on the job.

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