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Rugby: Must do better

ATTACK On paper, the back-three strikeforce of Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser and Sean Lamont looks pretty powerful.

Tim Visser scores a try against New Zealand   Photograph: Getty
Tim Visser scores a try against New Zealand Photograph: Getty

Visser, pictured below, got a couple of good tries against the All Blacks – and not many players do that – but I'm not sure they were truly able to unleash themselves.

The key with players like them is to have them hitting the line at pace, but Scotland's ball was far too slow at times and they didn't threaten as much as they could have.

All the problems of the first two games haunted Scotland big time against Tonga. They need to ask more questions of defences when they play top-class sides. Greig Laidlaw didn't attack the line, and although Nick de Luca tried a few things I thought his style was too predictable.

I was impressed by the progress made by Matt Scott, even though everything went backwards a bit yesterday.

defence Andy Robinson had been talking about using a "soft drift" defence against the All Blacks, but it was all a bit too soft for my liking. In the first half, Scotland didn't slow New Zealand down at all, were passive in their overall approach and took some heavy damage on the scoreboard.

There is a new defence coach in the Scotland set-up, and there is always a worry in these situations that players will be slow to adapt to new systems. What Scotland really have to tighten up on is getting off the line quickly, tackling low and getting into a fight for the ball. Without that, you let the other team dictate terms.

In the first two matches the Scots were going in too high and falling off tackles, but those were failings of individual skills, not overall strategy. Against Tonga, however, the malaise was collective. Alarmingly, Scotland couldn't match the hunger their opponents showed.

TACTICS There's no getting away from the fact our kicking game has not been good enough. If you can kick well, and in the right situations, you can take the pressure off yourselves and put it back on the opposition.

When you have big wingers such as Sean Lamont and Tim Visser, attacking, crossfield kicks can often bring tries, but those tactics were rarely used.

Greig Laidlaw did a great job at fly-half in the last Six Nations and he has been good for Edinburgh, too. But there is no doubt that, as a kicker, he is pretty basic and you will never be a truly great playmaker if you don't have that string to your bow.

All in all, a lot of what Scotland did against New Zealand and South Africa was essentially reactive. What they did against Tonga was passive, lacking boldness. They didn't take the game to their opponents, they didn't dictate. They need a more confident game plan – and players who can carry it out.

SELECTION Ruaridh Jackson was dropped from the squad after coming on as a replacement in the first two games. You wonder why he was in there in the first place. He has not been the form fly-half at Glasgow, and perhaps needs to take some time out of the limelight, as Dan Parks once did, to get his game and self-confidence back on track.

Jim Hamilton didn't look right in the games he played. He's a great player, and a formidable physical specimen, but seemed off the pace. I was happy to see Al Kellock come back in for the last game. He is not the most complete lock in the game, but gives 100%.

As far as the back row is concerned, I'm not convinced by the blend chosen yesterday, as I would always want to see a true openside in there.

With young Tom Heathcote, I understand why he has been fast-tracked into the side, but I think it is wrong in principle. If Heathcote was truly committed, he could have declared for Scotland, waited a while, then made a first appearance in an A game. His rapid promotion cheapens the jersey, and sends a terrible message to other players.

SET-PIECE I didn't think the line-out was as bad as some other commentators have suggested, but it has certainly lost ground since the Six Nations. Ross Ford has been a core player for five years, and deservedly so, but his line-out work has lost some of its accuracy.

There was better news in the scrum. I thought Geoff Cross had a tremendous game against the All Blacks, while Euan Murray was close to his best against South Africa. Although ruled out yesterday, Ryan Grant has also been in tremendous form.

However, when you have that platform you really have to use it. With players like Visser and Lamont on hand, it was disappointing to see so few first-phase moves. The try Henry Pyrgos scored, straight from a line-out against South Africa showed what a little imagination can do.

OVERVIEW

This has to be Scotland's most disappointing Autumn Test Series ever. The loss to Tonga was a new low for Scottish rugby. They will probably recover – they have the players to do it – but there was a feeling of utter dejection last night, made worse by the lack of fight the players had shown in Aberdeen.

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