To read some pundits’ accounts of the match and the fans’ comments on social media, you might think Scotland lost to Fiji at the weekend instead of winning by an eventually comfortable 16 points.

Last week I warned of the dangers Fiji might pose, and in the first half especially they were the better side, head coach Vern Cotter clearly having made them a much tighter outfit. It was Scotland’s discipline which fell apart under Fijian pressure and the penalty count against the home side was ridiculous in the first half, with seven conceded. Yet Scotland did as I asked them to last week and found a way to win with the 28-12 scoreline being about right.

It helped Scotland that Fiji lost the plot, conceding 18 penalties overall and having three players yellow carded against two by Scotland. The most pleasing thing for Gregor Townsend and his staff must be the fact that Scotland were the superior team in the tight – the scrums were fine and they won all 17 of their lineouts, Fiji not contesting the throw-ins because they so obviously feared the Scottish maul. Above all, for Scotland it was a solid 23-man performance, and I thought the replacements such as Blair Kinghorn, Ewan Ashman and Jonny Gray helped swing the result for the home side while Fiji just didn’t have any impact with their bench.

So now for New Zealand, and to have any chance of beating the All Blacks, Scotland must raise their game massively. It helps, rather than hinders, that Finn Russell is now back in the fold. The clamour for his return had been growing apace, though neither Kinghorn – apart from that missed penalty against the Wallabies - nor Adam Hastings let the side down.

The SRU could have taken a leaf out of the Tony Adams playbook on Strictly Come Dancing. Though I’m no expert, it seems to me that the former Arsenal and England legend is to ballroom dancing what Matt Hancock is to humility. What Adams does have is immense popularity and tens of thousands of Arsenal fans have organised themselves to phone in and vote for Adams to be retained each week. The SRU could have set up a similar poll – do you want Russell back? If so please call this number and pay the usual charges. It would be a nice big earner for Murrayfield and if the same scheme was applied to Rishi Sunak’s Government – vote for x to be thrown out of government each week – and the national debt would be gone.

HeraldScotland: Scotland fans in Finn Russell masks at the Fiji gameScotland fans in Finn Russell masks at the Fiji game (Image: SNS)

Fortunately, Gregor Townsend alone has the call on who plays where and when, and now he has the dilemma of whether to start with Russell or Kinghorn. Name Russell at No.10 and people will say Townsend’s admitting a mistake, whereas if he starts with Kinghorn he will be accused of refusing to admit his mistake. As I explain below, I think he will start with Russell, though I actually don’t think it matters that much, because whoever becomes the starting playmaker will probably spend their time on defensive duties.

The All Blacks will come out determined to do to Scotland what they did to Wales and batter the home side from the off. That Wales managed to keep the scoreline to 0-17 after 20 minutes was quite meritorious given the thrashing they were taking and the Welsh showed real bravery and commitment to make a game of it until the All Blacks eased away at the finish.

The match in Cardiff was similar in one way to all the weekend games. The better team in each match won because they made fewer mistakes at crucial times, with Scotland’s better discipline and control in the second half being admirable. The trouble is that the All Blacks won’t fizzle out like Fiji and that is why Scotland must start ferociously and with a real have-a-go spirit, hence beginning with Russell.

Given what they did to Wales, there’s no point in playing safety first against New Zealand. They are not at their strongest player-wise, but as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a bad All Black, and in Ardie Savea, Aaron Smith and the Barretts they have a clutch of potential match-winners. So Scotland must take them on up front and hope that the All Blacks have an off day – don’t forget they have had several of those in recent months.

Above all Scotland must not make mistakes. Like the Springboks, the All Blacks will punish you all day for any mistakes you make, including the concession of penalties. Give up penalties as they did in the first half against Fiji and Scotland will be on the end of a 50-point hammering. Retain discipline and control and Scotland might just make a fist of it and surprise New Zealand.

It’s time for Scotland to play the perfect game. Anything less and any hope of beating the All Blacks will prove illusory.


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