Chris Paterson: First week at the Rugby World Cup
Chris Paterson, former Scotland captain, is in Japan for the Rugby World Cup as part of the commentary team for World Rugby. He will also be sharing regular updates with us on the Scotland camp and on the tournament.
One week into the competition, Chris shares his opinions on Scotland’s opening Pool A game against Ireland and talks about the South Africa v New Zealand game that he commentated on for World Rugby’s World Feed.
On Ireland’s defence and the focus in the Scotland camp ahead of Samoa match:
Our loss to Ireland has to fuel the next performance and I’m sure it will. Ireland dominated every facet of the game and were in complete control. They started well, executed their set piece immaculately, attacked well and relished the opportunity to lay down a marker through their defence.
I was impressed by how they adapted their defence as the game went on. In the first half it was high risk-high reward as they opted to fly off the line and hit the attacker as he received the ball. This is high risk as there is no safety net, if the tackler misses there is no second chance, high reward because if the timing is right you’re more than likely going to force the turnover - they got their timing right.
With very little momentum and poor skill execution in our attack we struggled to get in behind their aggressive defence. In the second half when Ireland were comfortably ahead and didn’t need to risk anything their defence changed slightly. They were happy to fill the field, allow us to have slightly more time on the ball and stay together as a wall of green.
I’ve played in and been part of very disappointing Scottish performances - it hurts. I’ve also been involved in positive, winning reactions to very disappointing Scottish performances and the hurt remains. The feeling does not leave you but you have to move on to the next challenge, especially at a Rugby World Cup.
As a result of the performance versus Ireland, training in camp this week may differ to what was provisionally planned but with eight days between the Ireland game and our next fixture versus Samoa on Monday 30 September, there will be ample opportunity for players to show that they should be selected.
Beating Samoa is all that counts.
Samoa will pose a threat in many areas of the field but I believe the primary focus for this game should be on ourselves not the opposition.
On New Zealand v South Africa predictions, inspiring players and success:
On Saturday evening I thought South Africa may have come out on top and picked up a victory against New Zealand but I was wrong.
In what was a really entertaining game with flashes of brilliance from both sides and I was really impressed with the ability of the All Blacks not only to match the famed physicality of the Springboks but to exceed it.
The opening 20 minutes were physically brutal but the game was won in a four-minute window when the All Blacks scored two brilliant long range tries.
I’ve mentioned physicality but it was their ability to attack space that was the key. Their ability to balance the raw power and aggression with attacking flair is the blueprint to their success. The catalyst for the first try was an attacking kick to space followed by some sparkling running finished off by George Bridge after Beauden Barrett had identified the space between two defenders.
Some of South Africa’s best play was inspired by another player who fights hard to find space on the ever-more congested field, Cheslin Kolbe. I hope the way he plays the game can inspire the next generation of rugby player.
The standard of the encounter looked to be improved from their recent fixtures in the Rugby Championship and both of these teams will be very difficult to beat in the weeks ahead.
On week one, nerves and player pressure:
Nerves have played a big part of the Rugby World Cup so far. We are still in week one of the tournament but in almost every game there have been numerous examples of nerves from individual players and from teams, with Ireland perhaps the exception.
The most obvious examples of this was, understandably, in the opening fixture when the host nation, Japan, kicked the tournament off when they faced Russia in Tokyo. With the pressure of an expectant home crowd, their nation and the eyes of the world on them, the Japanese team initially suffered and we saw many more basic errors than we’re used to seeing in an International fixture. Simply put I think we saw players ‘not looking themselves’.
This was alarmingly underlined with a quote from the experienced Japan stand off and goal kicker, Yu Tamura, after the game when he said: ‘I thought I was going to die with the pressure’.
Pressure will affect all players but how it affects players will vary greatly from player to player. Some, and I think most, players enjoy the pressure they’re under and they see that pressure as a responsibility placed on them to perform well, execute what you have been preparing and relish the opportunity that you’re given to influence the game others may feel it as a burden. Whether you embrace the feeling of pressure and nerves or you try to shut it out you can’t escape it.
I used to ‘enjoy’ that pressure, however if you asked me if I enjoyed it in the hours before kick-off on a match-day I may not have agreed with myself but as I became more experienced I was able to channel it better. The pressure for me was only ever evident before a match; the second the referee’s whistle blew and I was on the pitch, all nerves disappeared.
I was then in a position to affect the game and by definition I became much more in control of the situation. In fact, I would feel worse if I wasn’t playing, with so much to focus on and with a physical involvement nerves and pressure were replaced by excitement and action.
The upcoming week
Later this week I’ll be covering three games on the World Feed for World Rugby. Italy v Canada on Thursday and Australia v Wales on Sunday. In between, I have the opportunity to get a close look at our final pool A opponents, Japan, when they face Ireland on Saturday.
I will be specifically interested in how Japan approach the game. I expect them to try to play a fast-paced game but to do that they will first have to match the physicality of Ireland. I expect both teams to improve further in their second game and to play with the feeling of a little less pressure.
Chris Paterson is the only Scotsman to play in four Rugby World Cups and is also Scotland’s highest point scorer. Catch up on his previous article that reflects on his playing days to give a glimpse into the mindset of our players and backroom staff, Chris Paterson: Behind The Scenes at RWC2019.
Continue to visit the Fan Zone at scottishrugby.org for exclusive interviews, articles, videos and image galleries from Japan.