AFTER Scotland's failure to get into the top eight seeds for the World Cup, the man who led them into the last one yesterday admitted that they must prove against Tonga that their slide down the world rankings can be stopped.
Al Kellock readily accepted that Saturday's meeting with the South Sea Islanders at Aberdeen's Pittodrie has a make-or-break element in terms of proving they can reverse the current trend.
"That would be fair comment," the 2011 World Cup captain admitted. "We've played against two fantastic teams over the past two weeks and we've done some things well, but we've not done enough well, to win. Now we're coming up against a team that are getting better and better and we've got to show we are too by, not just winning, but putting in a good performance as well."
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Kellock steadfastly refused to accept that the Scottish Rugby Union's ludicrous-looking strategic target of winning the 2015 World Cup in England should be abandoned in the wake of their latest failure, losing 21-10 to what was a Springbok development XV.
"At the top end of sport it is important that you set ambitious targets," he said, sticking firmly to the party line. "Setting the target of winning the World Cup is ambitious undoubtedly but it means we're always trying to be the very best. We're not at any point saying we're happy where we are.
"You can take it different ways. Some people look at it and see it as unrealistic. Others will look at it and say it's very ambitious so we've got a hell of a lot of work to do to get there.
"We have shown over the last few years that at our best we can compete with anybody. What we've not shown is the consistency to compete with everybody game in, game out.
"I suppose by setting that target that is what we're saying – we're aiming to do that. We know we've got the game. We know we've got the ability to compete with the best teams in the world and showed that in the summer with the win over Australia, but with that target, we need to do it more often. We've not done it these last two games so we've got to go back and assess what we need to do to make sure it happens."
With negligible resources compared with the vast sums that are being thrown at the Scottish professional game, Tonga managed to defeat a France team that was on its way to the World Cup final during last year's tournament in New Zealand,
Scotland's real troubles began at that 2011 tournament when head coach Andy Robinson's failings as selector were badly exposed – most notably when he left his World Cup captain out of the starting line-up for key matches.
Glasgow Warriors' inspirational leader has hauled his club side together in the RaboDirect Pro12 after a poor start to the season and has been a winner on six of his last seven starts for his country. Jim Hamilton, who has replaced him in Scotland's starting XV, lost for an eighth time in his last eight starts on Saturday, but Kellock manfully admitted that his priority is to continue to seek improvements in his own game.
"I'd love to start," he said. "I love playing for Scotland so I want to start games, but all I have to do is try to play as well as I can for Glasgow and do what I can when I get opportunities off the bench – then the decisions are down to the coaches.
"I'm getting feedback so I know where I am and I'll just keep pushing really hard and hopefully get the nod."
He felt however, that after taking the field just after the team had conceded weakly to a Springbok lineout drive, another famous win could have been achieved as he helped drive them to a much more competitive effort from that point on. "If it hadn't been for the interception try we would have been pushing to win in the last 10 minutes," he noted. "I enjoyed the contest, I didn't enjoy the result. I hate losing for Scotland. I hate losing for anybody, but I thought we did a lot of things well in the second half and just needed that final push that we had the week before to score three tries.
"South Africa are probably the best defensive team in the world, certainly when you try to run straight at them, but when we got a bit more width on the ball I thought we looked good."