World Cup Tales – Scotland with Chris Cusiter

Scotland logoThe very fact of their inclusion in this particular set of World Cup reviews will be reminder enough to Scotland fans of a tournament in which their side failed to live up to the promise shown under Andy Robinson’s guiding hand in the last few years. For the first time in their history, they failed to reach the Quarter-Finals, but only by the narrowest of margins as they let two games they could/should have won, slip from their grasp.

Having ground out victories over the eastern European forward power of Georgia and Romania, they somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against both Argentina and England, as late tries in both games proved to be match winners, and ended their interest in the competition before the knockout stages.

Scrum-half Chris Cusiter recovered from a severe knee injury just in time to take his place in the squad. But ultimately, his lack of game time leading into the tournament cost him a greater contribution. The frustration he feels at the short time he spent on the pitch is only amplified by the knowledge that Scotland were a mere whisker away from going through the group unbeaten. He tells their story…

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GAME 1 – SCOTLAND 34 ROMANIA 24

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You were 15-3 up after the first quarter and throwing the ball around nicely, before the wheels seemingly fell off and it turned into a real struggle. Can you pinpoint any reasons for this?

Chris Cusiter: “Hard to say. We opened them up quite a few times early on and I think we got a bit complacent after that as we seemed to be in control. We lost our structure a bit and also our intensity at the breakdown. To be fair to Romania, they played really well and rattled us. However, it was pleasing to finish as we did with two great tries.”

The Romanians really muscled up either side of half-time. They had an impressive scrum and took it to you in the forwards didn’t they?

CC: “We knew they’d be physical and so it proved. I know Marius Tincu and Ovideu Tonita from playing with them at Perpignan, and they are both quality players and hard men.”

Four years ago at the last World Cup, you beat Romania 42-0. The Tier Two and Three nations are definitely improving aren’t they?

CC: “I think they are but I also think that the first match is the worst time to play them. We hadn’t played too many warm up games and were a bit rusty, while they were at their best that day and hadn’t been beaten up yet by England and Argentina.”

You came on for the last quarter with the job of helping to rescue the result. What were your instructions and, 24-21 down with only 13 minutes remaining, was there any hint of panic?

CC: “We had lost our focus in attack, which was to move the Romanians around with quick ball. So the instructions were to get the ball moving and up the pace of the game. We didn’t really panic, but we knew the urgency of the situation. We spoke calmly behind the posts and said something like ‘No panic, but we better do something and we better do it soon’. Luckily, we did.”

Two late tries from Simon Danielli saved the day. Would you describe the game as merely a wake-up call, or a definite ‘got out of jail’ scenario – and how many beers did the team shout Danielli that night?!?

CC: “I think it was a wake up call. We finished strongly and it gave us a bit of a kick up the backside. Simon was well looked after!”

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GAME 2 – SCOTLAND 15 GEORGIA 6

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In admittedly atrocious weather, the Georgians put less points on you than Romania had and couldn’t cross your try line, but proved to be a very difficult side to break down. If the Romanian game was a wake up call, how would you describe this one?

CC: “I think we played pretty well in what were filthy conditions, and against a Georgian pack that were brilliant on the night. The heavy rain certainly didn’t suit us but we were in control for most of the game and it was a good result. We would love to have played under cover for those first two games as England did for their first three matches.”

It was a terrific defensive effort from both sides, rather than any lack of desire to score tries that led to only 21 points in the game. But Scotland’s handling errors and Georgia’s excessive penalty count didn’t help either did they?

CC: “It was just one of those games. They are difficult to break down and yes, the penalties stopped us playing a bit, but sometimes you just have to grind it out and that’s what we managed to do. I think we were in control of the game and although we were never out of sight, we were in front on the scoreboard for most of the game.”

Georgia and Romania both play a forward oriented power game, but the likes of Mamuka Gorgodze appeared to give Georgia a greater threat around the ruck fringes. Is that what you found?

CC: “Both are certainly stronger in the forwards but Gorgodze is the difference. He is an unbelievable player, so strong and powerful. Their rolling mauls were a threat, as well as the threat from their goal kicker.”

Andy Robinson was simply happy to get win number two and was ok with ‘playing ugly’ in order to do so. Is that just a fact of tournament rugby these days?

CC: “International rugby has always been about winning. If you lose a game in the group stages of a World Cup, your chances of qualifying for the quarters go down drastically. The risk of giving away penalties and easy points can cause teams to become very conservative but every now and again, you get a cracking, open game.”

Nine points from your first two games can’t have been much short of your expectations, but were the manner of the performances a cause for concern behind closed doors?

CC: “The aim was nine points after two games and we got them. We knew we had to perform better following on from that, but that’s fairly obvious. It also didn’t matter that we hadn’t played as well as we would’ve liked, as all that matters is the next eighty minutes.”

Cusiter, Chris passing 190604D-5500.JPG

A youthful Cusiter clears the ruck against the Wallabies back in 2004 – Photo: SPA Images

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GAME 3 – SCOTLAND 12 ARGENTINA 13

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You were 12-6 ahead with the clock running down and with one foot in the Quarter-Finals but then – as Andy Robinson described it – “30 seconds of madness” cost you the game and left the side with an uphill struggle to qualify. This should have been win number three shouldn’t it?

CC: “Yes, we should have won it. We played really well for the majority of the match in awful conditions but – as frustrating as it was to play in bad weather again – we still should have found a way to win. We lost a kick off which is always costly, but crucially compounded that error with a whole bunch more which led to their try. It was heartbreaking, they hadn’t looked like scoring for the whole of the game. We have to learn our lessons from that one.”

What happened with that restart, were the team possibly guilty of thinking of the next match, or even the Quarter-Finals?

CC: “No, I don’t think so. We just didn’t get back quickly enough and they took a quick kick off and caught us off guard. It was to prove very costly and they finished off a great try. It’s hard to explain, it was the worst moment of the tournament for us and unfortunately, it came at such a crucial time.”

There was still a chance of redemption after that when the team fashioned a drop goal attempt for Dan Parks, but he wasn’t quite set properly and was charged down. Do you think a bit more patience was needed at that point?

CC: “It wasn’t as well executed as it should have been. They did well to get up and put pressure on though.”

You spent a full seven and a half minutes more in the red zone than Argentina but again, couldn’t get over that line. Is that the major thing missing from this team, that ability to turn pressure and territory into points and put teams to the sword?

CC: “It has definitely been hurting us in recent seasons. Getting five or seven points can help to get you away from teams in close games but with three points all the time, they can always catch you. We have always worked hard at scoring tries and hopefully they will come this season.”

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GAME 4 – SCOTLAND 12 ENGLAND 16

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There’s a tremendous history and rivalry between the two countries and with Scotland in the last chance saloon, you posed England a very dangerous threat. What was the feeling like in the camp, were you confident of pulling this one off?

CC: “We were very confident. We knew we had the game and the players to beat England, the only negative was that we had to do it by eight points to realistically have a shot of qualifying, and that made us play a bit differently in the last fifteen minutes. Unfortunately we lost the game but again, I think we did enough to win it.”

You couldn’t have done much more for the first hour in terms of making your tackles, pinning England back, forcing errors and taking your points. You just couldn’t quite see it through to the end, could you?

CC: “It was a good game for us for the majority of it. We had them where we wanted them but fair play to them for scoring a try when they most needed it. We had played well but always knew they would come back at us.”

This was the first clash between the two great rivals outside of the UK. Did that have any bearing on your approach to the match, and did it even the ledger somewhat having pretty much every ‘neutral’ rooting for Scotland?

CC: “It was a great occasion, Scotland v England matches always are. We don’t fear playing England, we look forward to it as we are familiar with them and we know how to play them, and the support we had in Eden Park was incredible.”

England had a torrid time at the set-piece, losing four of their own scrums and four of their own line outs. Was that an area you targeted before the game?

CC: “Yes, we have a good set piece and we knew we could pressure them in those areas. The forwards played magnificently.”

What turned the game their way in your eyes?

CC: “We lost a kick off which helped them peg the score back, and then went for a high ball on their posts later on as a roll of the dice to go for a try and get past the eight points margin. Unfortunately, it didn’t come off, and they eventually came back up the other end and ended up scoring.”

Conceding that try with only four minutes left on the clock must have been hard to take. How did the loss compare to others in your career?

CC: “Up there with the worst, it was heartbreaking. Bracketed with Argentina the week before and Wales in the 2010 Six Nations.”

Scotland reflect_Scotland v England_RWC 2011

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REFLECTIONS

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Looking back at the tournament with a sense of perspective, is it fair to describe Scotland’s World Cup as a failure based purely on results, or should we take the actual performances into account?

CC: “It is results that count, so in that respect it was a failure, and we failed because we didn’t make at least the quarters or further. We didn’t miss by much, we fell on just the wrong side of that fine line. But we have to learn the lessons from it.”

Five of the ten matches in this group were decided in the last 10 minutes, and there was a hair’s breadth between yourselves, England and Argentina at the end. Does that parity leave you all the more frustrated at not having made it through?

CC: “Yes. These games are so close, one action can decide it, so you have to play for eighty minutes and not make any crucial errors.”

As we referenced earlier, Scotland’s inability to score tries proved costly, which must be particularly frustrating given that you were arguably the most expansive and attacking side in the group?

CC: “It’s hard to put a finger on why we couldn’t score tries. The weather certainly didn’t help for the middle two games but we had our chances against England and didn’t take them. We need to be able to score tries to win these close games.”

One major positive to take from the tournament was the form of winger Max Evans. He was a threat every time he had the ball in his hands wasn’t he?

CC: “Yes. Quite a few of us thought he was our player of the tournament.”

Where do you think Scotland are at right now in terms of progress over the last couple of years – are you on the right track?

CC: “I believe we are, and we are all working hard to make sure we have a successful Six Nations. Andy Robinson is the right man for the job and we have faith that we will keep improving.”

What has to happen in Scottish rugby over the next four years to ensure that you’re in a better position to compete at England 2015?

CC: “There will be a natural ‘changing of the guard’ so to speak, in that a few players will retire between now and then. I’m sure they will identify a few young players in certain positions who they want to bring through, but the aim is always to win so a balance has to be struck.”

What’s your take on the mistreatment of the lower ranked nations in terms of rest days between matches – do you agree that things need to change for England 2015?

CC: “I think they should certainly aim for parity for all the teams in the tournament. But I’m sure the commercial value of the games dictates a lot of the dates unfortunately.”

Best match not involving Scotland?

CC: “The final. Epic game.”

Six of the best players of the tournament (three from the Northern Hemisphere, three from the Southern Hemisphere)?

CC: “Thierry Dusautoir, Rhys Priestland and Max Evans; Jerome Kaino, Israel Dagg and James O’Connor.”

Best emerging individual talent?

CC: “Israel Dagg.”

Best try?

CC: “Thierry Dusautoir’s in the final.”

Ones to watch in 2015 – players and/or teams?

CC: “New Zealand of course, and hopefully the Pacific Island teams will progress as they are great to watch.”

What did you think of the tournament experience as a whole, and does New Zealand deserve another World Cup in the future?

CC: “I think it was a great tournament from that perspective. The New Zealand people were so friendly and welcoming, and it was well run. They love their rugby and it was a privilege to play down there.”

First published by RuggaMatrix on December 18th, 2011

 

 

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