ONE DOOR slams shut, another one opens. It is impossible not to feel for Grant Gilchrist whose groin injury curtailed his World Cup campaign. By the same token it is impossible not to share Blair Cowan’s joy at his call-up after having the wind taken from his sails by missing out on the original 31.
“It was absolutely devastating,” said the flanker of Vern Cotter’s initial decision to omit him from the World Cup squad “At this level the World Cup is the Mecca and we knew from the word go that seven was the crunch position with so much competition at a high level. The margins were fine in selection.
“It took me a bit of time to move on but I didn’t hold anything against them. You just look at John Hardie’s performance against Japan. I thought he was outstanding.
“I had some time off and went home [to New Zealand] to see family. That brings you back to earth. It reinforced what I had achieved until then. That was a good way to clear the mind.”
The Scotland coach has swapped a lock for an openside flanker which may not look a bargain in any pound-by-pound analysis but given the importance of the seven in the modern game it looks a shrewd enough move. Scotland have three locks still standing and Alasdair Strokosch, Ryan Wilson and David Denton could probably do a shift there in extremis, at least against Samoa if not South Africa. Cowan admits that he got a congratulatory text from Jim Hamilton, a potential like-for-like replacement had the big Sarries lock not retired from Test rugby after he too missed the original cut.
It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on life right now although even had Hamilton been straining at the leash Cotter might still have looked to the third rather than the second row for his replacement...not that Cowan concurs.
“I thought it would be a lock replacement!” he added.
After returning from that ten-day trip to New Zealand the flanker was in full training with London Irish and preparing for a friendly pre-season match against Harlequins when he got the call giving him the call-up. He had kept himself physically and mentally prepared for just this eventuality.
“Being involved so much leading up to the World Cup your mind is there,” he said. “Your brain is ticking over, thinking ‘where did I go wrong and what could I have done better?’
“Vern gave me the call [dropping him from the squad] and then another call a few days later to discuss things. We have always had a good relationship and he has been open with me. I appreciate that. He said what he expected of me if I did come in. He made me aware that opportunities would probably arise, like this, and to be prepared for it. The second phone call made me feel better because it is devastating when you are that close and you miss out.”
It seems unlikely that Cotter will risk playing two specialist sevens against the most physical pack of forwards world rugby has to offer but it’s not impossible that he will do so against Samoa who fielded two “fetchers” against the Springboks, Jack Lam and the tireless TJ Ioane. The latter is a former colleague of Hardie from Otago who made a lung-busting 24 tackles in the Springboks’ match.
Now in Newcastle, Cowan could throw himself into… well, nothing very much. He arrived only yesterday and today is a complete rest day for the squad with the most energetic activity on anyone’s agenda a potential trip to the cinema.
Although he has only just joined this squad it is possible that Cowan understands the enormity of the World Cup experience better than anyone else having seen it from a punter’s standpoint rather then being inside the bubble and looking out.
“Obviously you want to be involved but it was more about knowing how special the World Cup is,” he said. “I’ve had friends posting things comparing it to the buzz of the Olympics. In London, where I live, you get the feeling that the whole nation is involved. It is pretty special and amazing for the sport and something you are desperate to be involved in.
“It’s every kid’s dream as an egg chaser to come to the World Cup. You watch it growing up. You see the magnitude and what it does for the players, the supporters and the countries. To be involved is something special.”