Scotland centre Matt Scott hopes that his high-impact, try-scoring 26-minute cameo against the United States has done enough to convince coach Vern Cotter he is the man for the brutal midfield confrontation with South Africa on Saturday.
The Edinburgh player earned plaudits for his starting performance against Japan last Wednesday and replaced Peter Horne in the 54th minute at Elland Road on Sunday, injecting a bit of dynamism just when it was needed. The angle he ran to crash over for the vital, bonus-point sealing try was a piece of Pythagorean perfection and he now looks a good bet to line up at No 12 alongside Glasgow outside centre Mark Bennett at St James’ Park in Newcastle this weekend.
It was Scott’s first try in dark blue since he crossed against Italy in Pretoria on the summer tour of 2013 and he admitted he was itching to get his chance after watching Scotland toil in the first period against the feisty Americans.
“I was desperate to get on,” said the 25-year-old. “It was one of those games you want to come on and make a difference. You’re thinking ‘I can do this out there’ and ‘I can do that out there’. It was a bonus to get a try as well, I’ve not scored a try for Scotland in a while. No matter the circumstances it’s nice to get a try.
“I said to myself before I came on that this game doesn’t need anything fancy, it needs me to be direct and to run hard and I think I had two or three carries where I did exactly that. That sort of game is one of my strengths where other centres have different strengths and are better than me at other areas, so I just need to try to play to my strengths.
“It was great to get a significant try because it was the one for the bonus point. It was a great feeling because I’ve had a tough couple of years with injuries and whatnot, and it was nice to be back on the scoresheet.”
South Africa bounced back from their embarrassing defeat by Japan with a convincing dismantling of the Samoans in Birmingham on Saturday. Scott knows that the next two games will be huge physical tests but, despite only recently returning from the latest in a line of shoulder problems, he is relishing the prospect rather than bracing for it.
“I don’t think the physicality of South Africa and Samoa will be an issue because we’re more than capable of physically matching these teams but it’s a case of not playing into their hands,” he said. “Against the Americans we knew that they would spot blitz and their wingers would fly out of the line, as we saw with [Takudzwa] Ngwenya’s massive hit on Pete Horne, so we said not to throw massive loopy miss passes because they’ll fly out of the line and hit you. When we’re making mistakes like that the coaches are sitting there tearing their hair out because, when teams are blitzing like that, you need short passes and you need to hold your depth so that you can play round these guys who are flying out.
“It was a useful lesson because South Africa and Samoa also defend like that so we’re going to have to play smart against them.”
Scott was joined on the scoresheet by his Edinburgh team-mate Willem Nel, the prop scoring the first try of his fledgling five-cap career. The South Africa-born tighthead obviously has a good handle on the mentality of Saturday’s opponents and is steeled for a brutal battle.
“As South Africans, they want collisions. They love collisions,” said Nel.
“They want front-foot ball, they want to carry it into contact, play off the No 9 – and they just love to dominate. It’s up for us to be ready for what they’re going to bring to us this weekend.
“It starts at a young age in South Africa. It’s brought right through to everyone playing the game, that you want to dominate your opposition. They’re just brought up like that. But I definitely think we can step up and face that.”
Nel could well be up against Springbok loosehead Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira and said: “We’ve met each other a couple of times, so I know to expect a good battle up front. It would be nice to play against him. If I get the opportunity, it will be great.”