SCOTLAND have made just one change to the back division that was instrumental in the six-try performance against Japan, but there are hopes that newcomer Duncan Taylor could still bring a new potency to the Scottish armoury.
The 24-year-old once sported dreadlocks but, since he moved from Bedford to Saracens last year and his career took off with a Scotland debut off the bench in South Africa in the summer, he has played the role of a clean-cut versatile performer happy to fit in wherever coach Scott Johnson deemed him worthy.
For the stattos, he is the fourth Taylor to be selected for Scotland, only the second back, and he will become the second most-capped Taylor behind back row Simon when he makes his fifth appearance on Sunday.
Crucially, however, it is his first in the starting line-up and, with his substitute appearances against Samoa, South Africa and Italy in the summer being all-too-fleeting, this is the first real opportunity for Taylor to reveal his potential to the wider Scottish public. Although the loss of Matt Scott was not planned for, Johnson had options and could have shifted Nick de Luca back to the inside centre berth and started Sean Lamont, Max Evans or Glasgow youngster Mark Bennett in the 13 jersey.
But, after introducing Taylor to the squad with brief appearances at wing and full-back in June, he was keen to promote him and find out if his impressive displays in the Saracens midfield might be transferred successfully to the Scottish team.
“It’s a big confidence boost, coming in ahead of players like that,” said Taylor. “I have learned a lot from them, but it’s always nice to be included.
“I like playing centre, 12 or 13, but I’m very versatile and will play wing or full-back as well. I’m happy to play wherever. It’s nice being versatile but I would like to play more at 12, or 13 for that matter, because you get a bit more ball and more involved, and are expected to carry a bit more and work a bit harder, and you’re involved more defensively and making hits. That’s the main reason why I enjoy playing there more. You’re just in the mix a bit more.”
Taylor offers something different to the others vying for the centre berths. At 6ft 2in and 14 and a half stones he has a strength and athleticism that allows him to cope in heavy traffic but also off-load and expose gaps. He enjoys the freedom of attacking in wide channels but breaks into a wide grin of agreement when asked if he also likes taking on players face-to-face where there is nowhere to run.
This will be a major test for him, not least in keeping the defence tightly closed in the face of mammoth challenges. But Taylor has spent the past fortnight getting to know the more experienced De Luca, the Edinburgh centre having been rested in the summer, and the past few days getting to grips with the fact that his first start in a Scotland jersey will come at Murrayfield against one of the world’s best centres, Jean de Villiers, who may still be smarting from being given the runaround by his predecessor Scott in Nelspruit earlier this year. But Taylor knows a bit about the Springbok mentality, playing alongside a handful of former South Africa Test stars at Saracens and is not fazed by the step-up.
“He’s obviously a world-class player and is their captain, but it’s exciting coming up against players like that. You always want to test yourself against the best in the world and De Villiers is one of them so it’s exciting.
“I do know a lot about their mentality. They are big guys and work hard for each other, and that seems to be instilled in South Africans. But that’s a great challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
Taylor will not lack for support. Though born in Northampton, his Scottish parents returned north of the border when he was an infant and he started school at Davidson’s Mains Primary.
“It was a great school and I feel quite comfortable being back here. I’ve got quite a lot of family going to the game. I’m not entirely sure how many but I had about 12 family members come down to Murrayfield at the weekend and I was only on for two minutes and didn’t touch the ball so it was a bit of a wasted trip that one. Hopefully, this one will be a bit better.
“It has been relatively quick from playing for Saracens and maybe having 20 odd games for the club and then going on the summer tour, but I’m confident in my ability and I’m looking forward to starting for Scotland.
“It’s going to be a tough game. South Africa are a very structured side and there will be a lot more kicking than we experienced against Japan, but we’re going to look to knock them off their game and try to throw a few spanners in the works and see what happens.”
To get in touch and have your club featured on the Scotsman Rugby Show, contact us at: email@example.com
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH