Looking back on last month’s tour of Australia, Fiji and Samoa, being able to go to the Southern Hemisphere on tour was a first for me and it truly was a brilliant experience.
We stayed in Manly for the first few days which is a real surfers’ resort, and everything that you could imagine about Australia – paradise. But it was good when we went up to Newcastle for the Test with the Wallabies because the boys had been training hard but there were a lot of pleasant distractions in Manly, so focusing on the game helped and I think that showed in the result. Obviously the weather was a factor, but I feel we just played the conditions better than Australia on the night.
The weather was truly were as bad as it gets. For the Scottish guys, in terms of the cold, they’ve experienced worse, but the rain was so fierce, you just couldn’t look into it. I was in the stands, but even there it was hard to follow the game because you couldn’t see the action.
Understandably, Ally Strokosch and Joe Ansbro have both been on the receiving end of a fair bit of banter after their head clash, with Joe getting a lot more after coming off worse. That being said, Ally’s a fairly tough looking bloke so I don’t feel in a position to give him any banter. I walked on to the pitch to thank the supporters and celebrate with the boys and then I saw Joe run past me with blood streaming down his face, and I had no idea what had happened until afterwards!
Leaving Australia, the Test in Fiji was brilliant. It’s an incredible country in its own right, very beautiful, but with a big divide between the local population and the resorts that we were staying in. We visited one of the villages and the hospitality was great and included meeting one of the village chiefs and drinking ‘Kava’, a traditional Samoan drink made from the root of a pepper plant. There were some day trips over to the other islands, which were more like Western Resorts and really idyllic, with incredible hotels, especially one on Plantation Island.
In terms of the weather, it wasn’t necessarily that sunny, but it was always around 30 degrees at any given time, which meant training was tough. We had about a week to prepare so, by the day of the game, we were pretty well acclimatised.
To score two tries in the game itself on my debut was a dream come true and I couldn’t have hoped for anything more. We talked beforehand about not letting the game get too unstructured because they play like their Sevens side, which makes them very hard to defend against. There was a period in the middle where we lost that organisation and they scored tries from our mistakes, but we started and finished well which was encouraging.
We flew over to Samoa after the match and had another couple of days to acclimatise because it was hotter than Fiji by about 5 or 6 degrees. In terms of a comparison to Fiji, the way the local population lived was very similar but there were far less resorts and Westerners, which meant we mixed more with the locals and that was really good.
As for the game itself, the heat made conditions tricky. The sweat was pouring off you and that led to plenty of handling errors – it was like trying to play with a bar of soap. Samoa are an incredibly proud rugby country and they threw everything at us in that game, so our performance was nothing like the one against Fiji both for me personally and as a team. For that reason we can be very grateful to Greig Laidlaw for the way he controlled the game, and also to Mike Blair for putting over another debutant in Rob Harley in the dying seconds to win the game.
Having experienced playing in the Pacific Islands, I think teams should be travelling out to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga more often. We’ve seen over the last couple of years at World Cups and Autumn Internationals that they deserve more games against tier one sides. To go out there as a player and experience their culture and the beauty of the islands was incredible, but in rugby terms they have some world class players.
For us as a team, the group has bonded much closer together as a result of the tour. It was more casual than I expected but I think the results we picked up played a part in that in terms of keeping morale high. The Scotland camp is a very tight bunch after last year’s RBS 6 Nations and now we know that we can win in extreme conditions like the rain in Newcastle and in the heat of the Pacific Islands.
That unity in the squad can only stand us in good stead going forward. Scottish Rugby last week spoke about Scotland targeting a Grand Slam by 2016 and winning the Rugby World Cup and, as Chris Paterson has said, we could have won a lot of the games that we lost recently if tiny margins had gone our way.
Winning a Grand Slam is obviously not easy and there are big challenges ahead but if we can turn those margins around then it is possible.
by Tim Visser