Scotland fans would be excused for believing that their opening game against Pool B minnows Romania in the early hours of Saturday morning would result in a pretty comfortable victory.
Best laid plans and all that. Instead they watched most of the game through their fingers, shaking their heads regularly and shouting at the telly frequently.
It had started so well in Invercargill. Scotland’s back-line running with pace and joyful ambition - yes you read that right - fulfilling coach Andy Robinson’s desire for his side to “hit the ground running”.
Scotland looked so in control that even when winger Simon Danielli somehow managed to spurn a wonderful chance to score midway through the first half, there was barely an increase in the heart rate.
There was, however, frustration in the stands - Robinson venting his rage at Scotland’s profligacy by punching the Perspex cage surrounding his lofty vantage point.
Maybe he could sense what was coming, as Scotland’s bright beginning faded into something far more stodgy and unappealing.
Scotland’s first-choice pack, so often a source of strength, started to get pushed around. The Romanian scrum, led by gnarly Perpignan hooker Marius Tincu, got the better hand at the set piece while the breakdown, for the Scots at least, was a mess.
It was all Scotland could do to hold on to possession, struggling to go through the phases, coughing up the ball or giving away a host of penalties in contact.
When the forwards are going backwards, it is very difficult to get any foothold and Romania’s pack took full advantage, prop Mihaita Lazar going over just before the break after a rumbling rolling maul.
The horror show continued after the break, the indiscipline was still frustratingly in evidence while replacement fly-half Dan Parks would not have been thanked by his weary forwards for thumping two re-starts out on the full.
And then the unthinkable happened. After Romania chipped away at Scotland’s lead with a couple of penalties, number eight Daniel Carpo came off the back of another creaking scrum to put his side in front. The shock was on.
For some reason only known to the Romanian management, Tincu was taken off, and as he trudged off the field, his team’s hopes of victory seemed to go with him.
Scotland regrouped and regained their composure and smart play from the likes of Max Evans and number eight Richie Vernon helped Danielli score the two late tries that prevented Romania from recording one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history.
But despite Scotland scoring four tries in a single match for the first time under Robinson, this match was no cause for celebration and the former England and Bath boss is almost certain to put his forwards through the ringer during training this week. It’s not going to be pretty.
A dogged and uncompromising flanker himself, Robinson will be fuming that his side took their foot off the pedal, and he’ll have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. “Our work ethic dropped off, we allowed them back into the game,” he said afterwards.
He was, apparently, back out on the Invercargill pitch after his post-match duties were completed to take charge of a training session with the players not involved in the 22. The work starts here.
There is some validity in the argument, put forward by ITV rugby presenter Martin Bayfield, that Scotland paid the price for being the final World Cup side to arrive in New Zealand following their training camp Queensland, Australia. “They seem very undercooked,” he commented.
Scotland had better get up to World Cup speed quickly because next up is Georgia on Wednesday, a team with another set of forwards carved in granite as Ireland will testify after being pushed around by them in 2007.
Robinson will be acutely aware that another performance like this, especially from his pack, against a side ranked above Romania by the International Rugby Board, will place Scotland’s proud record of qualifying for every World Cup quarter final coming under threat.
There is some solace for Scotland fans, the midfield combination of Sean Lamont and Joe Ansbro shone in patches, albeit against a limited Romanian backline, Danielli looked sharp – missed try chance notwithstanding - while number eight Vernon, who will join Sale after the World Cup, caught the eye with a bullocking run and soft hands in the final 10 minutes.
They also showed a fair bit of character to claw their way back to win a game that they were in danger of losing.
And there is a crumb of comfort in the fact that Scotland fans were not the only 6 Nations supporters on Saturday to watch their side from the behind the sofa.
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