PRE-SEASON training is usually viewed as something to be endured rather than enjoyed but the Glasgow back-rower Adam Ashe has been relishing the chance to get a full block in the bank during Scotland’s World Cup build-up.
The 22-year-old was called away from his John Macphail Scholarship trip to New Zealand last summer to make his Scotland debut on tour against South Africa in Port Elizabeth and the season before he was playing in the Under-20 World Cup.
The Italians were jumping about on our home turf. That was quite hurtfulAdam Ashe
“All of the boys are feeling good. For me personally, this is the first full pre-season I’ve completed for three years,” said Ashe this week after being named in the initial squad for this weekend’s trip to Turin to face Italy in Scotland’s second World Cup warm-up Test.
“I’m looking forward to testing myself and feeling fit out there on the pitch.”
David Denton upped the ante in the battle for the No 8 jersey with a storming display in Dublin last Saturday and Ashe is eager to make his reply this week.
“Dents is playing well at the moment and that does put an extra bit of pressure on me to step up,” he admitted.
“I’m just looking forward to getting out there. Last week when the guys were preparing for the Ireland game, we were still training hard, getting a lot of fitness stuff done and hitting the gym. So it’s good to now have a bit of light at the end of the tunnel and finally have a game to look forward to.”
Back-row is one of the most competitive areas in the squad but Ashe says the selection head-to-heads are not openly discussed by the rivals within the camp.
“We don’t tend to talk about it as a squad, no,” he said. “It’s the kind of thing you’d speak to your girlfriend about or someone who’s impartial, it’s not the kind of thing you’d speak to your opposition about as it’s a bit awkward.
“[Head coach] Vern [Cotter] spoke to me about being able to play both six and eight. It’s a good thing if you can play a couple of positions but I don’t know what kind of balances he’s going for.
“He may take two number eights or whatever so we will just need to wait and see.
“You don’t want to put yourself under too much pressure. I’m going to try and stick to doing the normal things that go through your head before any game even though there’s a lot of pressure.
“I obviously want to be included in the World Cup squad but this is just another game and you want to stick to the things which have taken you this far in the first place.”
It may be just another game but it is against opponents who have been a regular thorn in Scotland’s side, with the recent late collapse in the Six Nations at BT Murrayfield adding itself to a jarring roll call of botched Italian jobs.
With six straight defeats in the calendar year, stopping the rot with a victory is becoming a pressing priority. “This weekend is a game which we should be winning,” insisted Ashe. “We lost narrowly in the Six Nations but personally I’m targeting this as a game we need to win.
“The Six Nations game wasn’t too long ago and they play a similar way to us. Although I wasn’t involved in the last Six Nations game against Italy, I watched it and I was watching it again on the computer the other day actually and one thing I noticed is the way they went mad after the game.
“They were all jumping about on our home turf and that was obviously quite hurtful to see. It does give us that little spark to get right up for this game.”
The Italians always bring a physical forward confrontation and Ashe said the Scots will be ready. “We just did a mauling session during training against Edinburgh, which was fun. Italy will come hard at mauls, not only off lineouts but in phase play as well… they like to set out mauls.
“They will try to come through us so we need to make sure we get them onto the ground early.
“The message about starting well has been a message we’ve been given this week after the Ireland game, building phases and get ourselves into the game.
“We need to start quickly rather than 40 or 50 minutes into it.”
Cotter will name his team at BT Murrayfield this morning for Saturday evening’s game before the squad fly out to northern Italy.