THE last time Scotland played Samoa, at St James’ Park in the 2015 Rugby World Cup when Vern Cotter was head coach, Greig Laidlaw delivered a masterclass in game management. He also scored all but ten of the team’s points as they won the Pool B match 36-33 to go through to a quarter-final against Australia.

You might think that a similar display would be called for when the teams meet again on Monday in Kobe. But, after the debacle of Sunday’s 27-3 defeat by Ireland in their opening match, what Scotland need now to get their World Cup campaign back on track is something more than one man’s individual brilliance. They need a team effort: a solid, no-nonsense, 23-man team effort against arguably the most fearsomely physical side in the tournament.

Those of us who were at that game in Newcastle four years ago like to look back nostalgically on Laidlaw’s bravura performance, but for all his brilliance it was still a close-run thing. With nothing to lose, the Samoans took the game to Scotland and for a time every pass they made went to hand, every trick they attempted came off. In the end, they won the try count 4-3, but lost the game after Tusi Pisi, their stand-off, was wide with two conversion attempts.

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Laidlaw alternately cajoled and harried his pack as if he were half jockey, half sheepdog, and in the end they responded by giving him the platform from which to score the matchwinning try. Yet there was still an element of good fortune in Scotland’s victory, and on Monday the team cannot afford to leave anything to fortune.

True, Samoa, who were in the world’s top eight and seeded above Scotland in 2015, are not quite the force they were. They are currently 16th, eight places below Gregor Townsend’s side, and at that level those eight places often count for a lot.

But whatever the substantial differences between the teams on paper, in most of their 11 meetings to date there has been little between them. In 1995, for example, Western Samoa, as they were then known, came to Murrayfield and were unfortunate to leave with only a 15-15 draw. 

They have only actually beaten Scotland once, in Durban back in 2013, but they never go down without a fight. In their last four defeats, including that one in 2015, they have lost by three points, one point, three points and six points.

Samoa get their campaign under way this morning [Tuesday] British time when they take on Russia in Kumagaya. Just five days after playing the tournament opener against Japan, the Russians will have their fitness tested to the limit, and although they should compete gamely for a while, Samoa should win comfortably. Presuming they do, they will approach the Scotland game believing they have a fair chance of reaching the knockout stages.

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Four years on from his last meeting with the Pacific Islanders, Laidlaw still has more accumulated rugby wisdom than any other member of the Scotland squad, even if at nearly 34 he lacks the eye for an opening and the ability to race into it that his rival Ali Price can boast. A combination of Laidlaw’s sagacity and Price’s velocity would arguably make for the ideal composite No 9, although with Price having been injured against the Irish his participation on Monday is in doubt, which could mean a place in the 23 for his Glasgow Warriors rival George Horne.

When it comes to his overall selection, though, Townsend’s guiding principal will surely be the need for composure. There was a notable lack of that quality against Ireland, but it is unlikely to make a sudden reappearance if the coach opts for a largely untested starting line-up, so it seems reasonable to expect a very similar 15 to Sunday’s to be given the chance to go and redeem themselves. After all, it should not be forgotten that, in the very next game following that scrappy win against the Samoans, Scotland played out of their skins against the Wallabies and came within a point and a dodgy refereeing decision of reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 1991. A maddening inconsistency would appear to have been part of the team’s psyche some time before Townsend took over.

Of course, even if the coach were to want to start with the same 15, he will be unable to do so because of the knee injury which has ended Hamish Watson’s tournament. The only specialist openside in the squad is a massive loss, and whoever takes over at No 7 will have to excel himself if he is to come close to emulating the Edinburgh forward’s close-quarter combative qualities.