SCOTLAND defence coach Matt Taylor has sung the praises of the latest “kilted Kiwi” after the newly-arrived John Hardie was named in the squad for Saturday’s second World Cup warm-up Test against Italy in Turin.
The highly-rated 27-year-old openside flanker was added to Vern Cotter’s extended training squad a month ago after his contract with Otago Highlanders expired. He could now win a first cap at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday evening after being selected in the 25-man squad that will travel to the northern
He’s a quality player so a lot of clubs will be keen to snap him upMatt Taylor on John Hardie
Hardie confirmed yesterday that there is no deal for him to move to Edinburgh or Glasgow and he only has a short-term bridging contract with the SRU until the final 31-man World Cup squad is named. After that, whether he is in it or not, he will look to secure a club in the northern hemisphere, with England and France suggested as possible desired destinations, and remain committed to Scotland.
There has been some criticism of Hardie’s “parachuting”, with former Scotland internationalist Peter Wright particularly scathing, but Taylor insisted yesterday that the man who played more than 50 games for the Highlanders in Super Rugby has been a valuable addition to the squad.
“He’s been excellent, an excellent professional,” said Taylor when asked how the Southlander had settled into the Scotland squad. “The way he’s come in, you know, he has probably rightly or wrongly felt the pressure being a New Zealander. But, as a person, and the way he has acted in the group, and the way he has been so humble and quiet and just got his head down, you couldn’t ask for a better person.”
When asked if he was surprised by some of the criticism levelled at the selection, the Australia-born former Edinburgh, Borders and Scotland A player, who is also on the Glasgow coaching staff, said: “People have feelings on who should represent Scotland and how things should be gone about, and I would understand some feeling like that. But there was contractual things around it [the lateness of the call-up].
“We’re really happy to have him in the squad and I think if you ask anyone in the group they will say the same thing.”
Taylor acknowledged the fact that Hardie’s move represents something of a gamble on the player’s part and added: “Yeah I suppose it is a big risk but he’s a quality player with a strong background. He made the decision to come over here and I think he sees his rugby career at both a national level and club level in the northern hemisphere now. He’s taken a risk, but it’s a calculated risk. He’s a quality player so I’m sure there will be a lot of clubs keen to snap him up.”
Grant Gilchrist will skipper Scotland in Turin, with the other 14 members of the starting XV to be confirmed tomorrow. It will allow Cotter to test another captain and the Edinburgh lock will finally lead out his country after an untimely injury scuppered his chances of doing the same in last year’s autumn Tests.
There are 11 changes from the Henry Pyrgos-led squad which performed well in a narrow 28-22 loss to Six Nations champions Ireland at the Aviva Stadium last Saturday. There are nine changes in the pack – with the new-look loose forwards to be selected from Adam Ashe, Hardie, Alasdair Strokosch and Hamish Watson, none of whom were involved against Ireland. They have replaced John Barclay, Hugh Blake, Blair Cowan and David Denton.
The five remaining changes up front see Kevin Bryce, Alasdair Dickinson, Richie Gray, Stuart McInally and Willem Nel come in for Fraser Brown, Allan Dell, Ryan Grant, Rob Harley, and Jon Welsh. The backs remain relatively unchanged, with the youthful uncapped wing duo of Damien Hoyland and Rory Hughes joining the group in place of Dougie Fife and Tim Visser.
Saturday’s match is the first of back-to-back encounters against the Italians, with the Azzurri travelling to BT Murrayfield the following weekend.