BY IAIN COLLIN – Capital City Press
Sir Ian McGeechan believes Scotland are in better shape than anyone would have dreamed going into Saturday’s crucial encounter with South Africa.
The Scots survived a gruelling four-day turn around between their opening two fixtures to add a bonus-point victory over the USA on Sunday to the commanding win against shock troops Japan last Wednesday.
Vern Cotter’s team now face their biggest challenge yet, against Pool B favourites South Africa, who recovered from their embarrassing defeat to Japan to prove their quality by hammering Samoa 46-6 on Saturday.
McGeechan, the legendary former British and Irish Lions coach, was mightily impressed with the way Scotland averted their own disastrous result at Elland Road, roaring back from a 13-6 half-time deficit to score five second-half tries on their way to a 39-16 triumph.
And McGeechan, who as coach steered Scotland to their 1990 Grand Slam and to their fourth-place finish in the World Cup a year later, reckons things could scarcely be better ahead of the meeting with the formidable Springboks.
Asked if Scotland were in as good shape as he hoped they would be after the first two games, the 68-year-old said: “(They’re) better than I think we could have ever dared to think.
“They played well against Japan and they came out again after a four-day turnaround and really put a good performance together, particularly in that second-half when they didn’t lose any control of the game. They were very patient.
“I thought in the 15 minutes after half-time they were outstanding. They were patient, they got control and they kept control, and they scored two early tries and just took all the momentum out of the USA’s game.
“The US players weren’t able to stop them in their tracks, Scotland got on the front foot and these fellas can isolate defenders, as they proved with very, very good scores.”
The one worry for Scotland is the fitness of stand-off Finn Russell, who has become an integral part of the side in the short time since making his international debut against the USA just last year.
The Glasgow Warriors player, who marked his 23rd birthday with a try against Japan on Wednesday, sprained his ankle on the hour mark against the Americans and is a major concern for the South Africa match.
Speaking to STV, McGeechan added: “We need Finn Russell fit, really, because he’s playing well.
“Scotland have got the best doctor anywhere in world rugby, in Dr James Robson, so if he’s going to get fit he’ll get him fit again.”