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Next task is to neuter the Springbok battering ram

After taking into consideration the loss of Ross Rennie for the rest of the EMC Test series, Scotland's injury bulletin could hardly have been better yesterday.

Geoff Cross is congratulated after scoring Scotland's second try. Picture: Nick Ponty
Geoff Cross is congratulated after scoring Scotland's second try. Picture: Nick Ponty

The flanker's dislocated shoulder apart, damage was restricted to the sort of bumps and bruises that are absolutely standard following any Test match with those reporting them being; Geoff Cross (ribs), Ryan Grant (back), Scott Lawson (shoulder), Jim Hamilton (dead leg), Matt Scott (shoulder), Nick De Luca (calf) and Tim Visser (flank).

The back row, meanwhile, is probably the part of the pitch in which Scotland are best served, with the most obvious solutions being to switch Kelly Brown, the versatile captain, from No.8 to the open-side berth, or to recall the vastly experienced John Barclay, who owned the No.7 jersey for so long, as a direct replacement.

Given the medical team's experience in dealing with such soft tissue damage, the only added complication is that they have one day less than usual to recover for the second Test in the series.

It may be a different story next weekend, however, as the style and guile of the All Blacks is replaced by the relentless brutality of the Springboks or, as Andy Robinson, Scotland's head coach, put it immediately after Sunday's match "route one rugby".

Few teams in world rugby at any level require less time spent on them in terms of pre-match analysis than the Springboks. It is not that they lack footballing ability, merely that they prefer to batter teams into submission before displaying it.

While Sunday's defeat demonstrated that Scotland still cannot cope with the sort of skills the All Blacks are capable of producing – they are not alone in that respect – there was some encouragement for them in the way they competed for long periods.

It was the speed of Scotland's defensive line that forced the mistake from the otherwise majestic Dan Carter, which allowed them to take the lead with the game's first try as Matt Scott claimed the interception that let him put in Tim Visser.

That Greig Laidlaw, the lightest man afield, was credited with the counter-rucking success that let Mike Blair send Visser in for his second try, was a measure, too, of Scotland's combativeness at the breakdown when they got it right.

There was acknowledgement that they did not manage to maintain that sufficiently, which is what allowed their opponents to put on the style for the 10-minute spell late in the first half which turned a tight match into another All Black exhibition.

However, no other team has the same capacity to capitalise on the slightest lapse, or to keep probing for signs of systemic or individual failure, and a performance of similar intensity could well generate greater returns against even the No.2-ranked team in the world.

Given the difficulty other teams have had in scoring tries against the All Blacks, it seems rather churlish to point out that, for all the praise heaped on Scott Johnson, the new attack coach, by players who seemed relieved to have some fresh input on that front, none of the tries was the result of crafted attacking play.

In the lead up to the one try Scotland did manage to score from their own possession, they twice showed rather more awareness in what is referred to as the red or gold zone, than they have shown in mindlessly running into walls in the past.

Richie Gray twice led the charge and, had Matt Scott been kitted out with a Formula One-style on-board camera which, unlike the conventional angles, would have shown whether he had managed to scratch the surface with the ball after his explosive burst through the ruck, Geoff Cross might have been denied his score. Instead, the replay official told them to try again and, like his Edinburgh clubmate, Cross picked his moment well, seeing the space as it opened up to get over.

Scotland might have registered a similar sort of score which could amazingly have taken them to within eight points midway through the second half had Jim Hamilton not got in the way of his captain as he sought to power off the back of a maul at close quarters.

There is nothing to be taken from pondering what might have been and there looks no more prospect of Scotland producing the sort of handling play that sent Cory Jane in for a try of exquisite simplicity and, therefore, elegance. However, any form of constructive attacking play is a merciful relief for Scottish players and supporters who have despaired at the team's impotence in recent years. Since the Springboks are also complaining about their lack of finishing power of late, it could hardly be more clear that even when registering forward-oriented tries, the application of brain is as important as the use of brawn, so that first-half, injury-time rucking try hinted at progress.

This time, then, it is merely (an utterly inappropriate word to use in this particular context) a case of dealing with the Springbok physicality while doing those other basics just as well.

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