IT WAS an evening of high emotion for Blair Cowan, the latest in a long line of New Zealand-born players to don the dark blue of Scotland.
The openside flanker played supremely well on his fifth appearance for Scotland, for whom he qualifies through his Dunoon-born mother Joan. She had flown from New Zealand along with Cowan’s uncle to be in the crowd along with his UK-based cousins and his fiancée as he took the field against the All Blacks.
“I don’t think I can describe the emotion,” said Cowan. “It is something I will cherish forever. Representing Scotland and coming up against New Zealand with my family in the stand – right now I am coming down from all this emotion so I think I need to sit back in the hotel and reflect on it all.
“I worked on not letting the emotion getting to me during the week, and my brother helped by making a Skype call to me and making me laugh by taking the mickey out of me – I can always rely on him for that but, at the same time, I knew he was very proud.”
The compliments paid to Scotland by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen and captain Richie McCaw, especially when they admitted to the pressure exerted by the home side, were music to Cowan’s ears.
He said: “Those kind of words from Richie and Steve are a massive compliment to Scotland and something we will pride ourselves on.
“We knew the task we had this week, but we didn’t get ahead of ourselves. The amount of passion we showed and the game we are playing at the moment is all about pride and representing the country – that’s our main driver at the moment and we showed that in defence and attack.
“When you come up against the All Blacks, you just have to throw everything at them. We were giving everything we could, and I don’t think the All Blacks were used to a Scotland side that forced turnovers, especially in our own 22.
“I was very impressed by us from 1 to 23, and I sensed the All Blacks were a little bit taken aback. They made simple errors which were very uncharacteristic but, as the All Blacks do, they are very good at regrouping and coming at you again.
“There was a bit of niggle, and we tried to give them it back, but hey, they own that.”
Some pundits had stated that the Kiwi XV was not the best side that New Zealand could pick, but the old saying that there is no such thing as a poor All Black team struck a chord with Cowan.
“No matter what they put out they are an absolute quality side,” said Cowan. “They are a developing side, but I can honestly say there is never a second-string team, it’s just another All Blacks team.”
The personable 28-year-old, who plays his club rugby for London Irish, heaped praise on all the men around him, but reserved special admiration for lineout lighthouses the Gray brothers. He revealed that his own nickname for Richie and Jonny is the “Sons of Scotland”, which no fan of the film Braveheart will need explaining.
“They are outstanding at the lineout and they take great pride in it,” said Cowan. “They run it during the week and take control of it, and it’s something we want to keep progressing. We know our roles in the back row. Rob Harley was exceptional out there today. He’s very accurate in what he does – he’s not just a loony out there, he brings controlled chaos and is very good at it. Adam Ashe is one for the future and is going to be a star. He doesn’t fear contact and will run that ball and be brisk with it.”
Cowan was emphatic that the players themselves feel that there is a growing spirit within the Scottish camp.
He explained: “We looked at what drove successful Scottish teams in the past and we are trying to bring a modern game to the passion that they had. I have not been in the squad for very long but in the time that I have been here to the build up for today, it’s been very positive and very optimistic. “We need to build on that as we have a big Six Nations and the World Cup to come.”
First up, however, is Tonga at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, on Saturday afternoon. Expect the latest kilted Kiwi to play his dynamic part.