Brutal schedule sold Scots short

Date published: June 30 2014

Burdened by an absurd end-of-season tour schedule, Scotland can take plenty from their far-ranging excursions this June.

Burdened by an absurd end-of-season tour schedule, Scotland can take plenty from their far-ranging excursions this June.

Were pre-season training not already fast-approaching in this, the age of relentless rugby where wonga often trumps welfare, most members of the Scotland touring squad could have treated their families to a holiday somewhere sunny courtesy of the air miles they have racked up this June.

It was a punishing four weeks, beginning in the sweltering Houston heat, then journeying north some 1500 miles to the shores of Lake Ontario, doubling back on themselves and then some to reach Cordoba and its unique cultural diversity, and finally, four flights later, the finishing line, the iconic Port Elizabeth sands.

For those spared the energy-sapping task of visiting all four destinations, the tour represented a fleeting opportunity to impress new boss Vern Cotter. For those who went the whole hog, it was a truly brutal end to another gruelling season.

It was not surprising to see the injury list grow so sharply, as indeed it did this time last year. There is such a thing as too much rugby. Nor was it a shock to see a weary and weakened Scotland blown away at the breakdown and run ragged out wide by the rampant South Africa.

That defeat bore a heavy air of inevitability, but one brief point: it is perhaps most galling not that the visitors shipped eight tries in PE, or indeed that a second-row cantered over untouched from 35 metres to land one of them, but that the man who has transformed the Springboks' patented prowess in contact, so valued by Heyneke Meyer, hails from Galashiels.

It doesn't take the analytical nous of Einstein to realise the schedule was hugely demanding even without the South African addendum. With it, the travelling and turnaround times bordered on the inhumane and left Cotter fielding a critically weakened side come the climax.

Tired clichés and talk of “taking the positives” from what was a meaningless Test for both teams, conceived chiefly by SRU management because no other Tier One nation would play host to the Scots outside the June window are reminiscent of the darker days of Frank Hadden and Matt Williams.

Nonetheless, Mandela Bay mauling aside, Cotter will be satisfied the tour was a worthwhile exercise. He has spent time among a huge chunk of the players at his disposal, seen them train and play, and should be heartened by the attitude if not the accuracy displayed in all four matches.

Individually speaking, Geoff Cross, unfathomably frozen out at Edinburgh, was the pick of the bunch (perhaps aided by his lack of game-time this season). He caught the eye even against the mighty Springbok scrummage, and completed the tour despite the death of his father three days before the opening Test..

Tommy Seymour maintained his fine domestic form, Stuart Hogg bounced back from a troubled few months in Glasgow, Henry Pyrgos looked hungry, and Nick De Luca ensured the head coach will not forget about him as he moves to Biarritz.

Though old frailties linger, and Scott Johnson continues to occupy a counter-productive half-coach, half-Director of Rugby role, depth is growing across positions Scotland have failed to adequately fill for almost a decade, midfield in particular.

An encouraging start, then, to the Kiwi's reign, and absurd itinerary aside, the tour can be labelled a success beyond the simplicity of the win/loss column.

With the season underway, the likes of Matt Scott and John Barclay fit again, and a heightened competition for places, the November Tests will paint a clearer picture and provide a sterner examination of Scotland under Cotter.

By Jamie Lyall