Changes to the Scotland team for Italy were already inevitable before the injury and performance fallout from Sunday’s loss to Ireland, says assistant coach Mike Blair.
The first of two six-day turnarounds for the final two Guinness Six Nations Championship matches made it likely they would rotate personnel for this Saturday’s meeting with winless Italy at BT Murrayfield.
They will be without Scott Cummings, ending the lock’s run of playing in every game since the the summer of 2019. Finn Russell is unlikely to have time to complete concussion protocols after his head knock against the Irish.
Jonny Gray, who came off with a shoulder injury, is “progressing” and will be a late decision.
‘Very unlikely’ to have same team three weeks in a row
“The reality of two six day turnarounds is that there will be changes,” said the former captain. “Some of them will be enforced to keep players fresh, there could be a multitude of reasons.
“It would be very unlikely we would go with the same team three games on the trot.”
Performance issues from Sunday’s game will also come into it, following a “blunt review” of the game on Sunday, said Blair.
Being hard to beat is not enough now
“You should have seen the guys after the game (on Sunday),” said the former captain. “We’ve build up an expectation of the level of game we want to play, and we didn’t reach that.
“We talked in the last Six Nations about becoming a team that was hard to beat. But we’ve moved on from that. You can see that by winning at Twickenham, and two close games at home, now that’s not enough.
“We’ve moved up a level and it’s not enough to say we’re close and in the game. That was Scotland teams before. This is a talented group of players and we know if we can play the best of our ability we can beat England away and Wales or Ireland at home.
“There was a fairly blunt review meeting this morning. We have to pick our chins up and move on. We can’t stay thinking about that when we have a test match in a few days’ time.”
‘Frustration is the best word to describe it’
That said, it was a session with nothing spared, said Blair.
“I think frustration is the best word to describe it,” he continued. “It’s certainly not aggressive or angry because we are all going for the same goal. But you could see the frustration across the whole group, but with a six-day turnaround you’ve got to put that to bed.
“We are fortunate in that we have built good relationships up with the players so we feel that they are able to speak their minds.
“The last couple of days these conversations have been happening and then Gregor led on the meeting today as a result of conversations he has had with the players and coaches.
“It is something we have got better at. Previously some would be concerned about what the other player or your mate would say behind their backs, but there is a lot of honesty and understanding in this group.
“As long as you out your point across in a respectful way that the points are being made for improvement in team performance. It is something we have seen more of in the last couple of campaigns and it is something that will improve us as a team.”
Better start against Italy is essential
Scotland certainly can’t afford the lineout and turnover count against them on Sunday – they lost six on their own throw and were turned over multiple times – or the slow start that gave the Irish an immediate 8-0 lead.
“Ireland are a team who hold onto the ball a lot. They had that first possession and put us under a bit of stress on the left edge. They got the penalty first and then the try after that.
“It is a game of momentum. If you get it, like we did against Wales, you jump on that and you punish teams. That start wasn’t good, 8-0 wasn’t good.
“Italy have had a tough championship. They’re better than their results have shown.
“Teams have had golden patches against them and been able to pressurise them over 10 to 15 minute periods. They seem to struggle to come back from those.
“That means the start of the game and the pressure we’re able to put on them is really important.”