Six Nations: Duncan Weir to be Scots’ ace of clubs

Duncan Weir replaces Warriors team-mate Ruaridh Jackson at stand-off. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Duncan Weir replaces Warriors team-mate Ruaridh Jackson at stand-off. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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DUNCAN WEIR wants to take the Matt Scott route to RBS Six Nations rugby stardom as a first start for Scotland beckons against Wales at Murrayfield tomorrow.

As recently as the beginning of last season, Scott was turning out for Currie. In making the most of chances with Edinburgh, the centre has now gained nine successive caps.

Turn back the clock only to December and there was Weir wearing club colours as he looked for valuable game time representing Dundee against Carmarthen Quins in the British and Irish Cup.

He also had the satisfaction of goaling the winning kick, but the outing was symbolic, too, in highlighting improving links between the grassroots game and the professional elite, which is maybe reflected in Scottish rugby’s general resurgence with its feelgood factor.

“If I can go on and use a club appearance to replicate what Matt has done, I would be more than happy,” said 21-year-old Weir who has made three Test appearances from off the bench – against France, Fiji and Ireland last time out.

“Getting an outing at club level was great. I really bought into what the club were trying to do. I really felt the team environment that day. Sometimes in the past there has been conflict (between the two tiers of the game), but I was welcomed to the extent they stripped back their usual tactics to basics to help me and we got a win that was great for Scottish rugby.”

Since then Weir has progressed to being part of a Glasgow team (along with the man he replaces at stand-off, Ruaridh Jackson) that is top of the RaboDirect Pro 12 League.

Along the way they posted a record breaking 60-3 win over Dragons at Newport and, although the scenario is completely different, Weir does feel a result like that in the heart of Wales sends out a positive message. “The margin of that Glasgow win at Dragons does not do us any harm going into an international with Wales.

“That was a special night of racking up the best scoreline in league history and on top of that, there was a bonus-point win over another Welsh team, Cardiff, last weekend.

“These type of occasions have contributed to me loving my rugby like never before.”

Being at the helm of a team able to cut loose sends out another statement – namely that there is more to Weir than a kicking standing off, which is how we was pigeon-holed when he initially came on to the scene. Kicking from hand will be handy tomorrow in turning the Welsh and ensuring Scotland play in the right half of the field, but he also wants to move the ball.

“The influences on my stand-off career have been the likes of England’s Jonny Wilkinson and Dan Carter of New Zealand.

“They are both good kickers, but they are also the most stand-out No. 10s of my generation, talented all-round footballers.

“Having all-round ability is something I definitely want to be known for. Just because in first glimpses of pro rugby there was a lot said about my kicking game doesn’t mean I can’t cause the opposition headaches in other aspects.”

For Weir to be able to dictate in the manner he wants will, of course, require possession and the key could come down to how Scotland thwart the first team they will come up against in this Championship fielding an out-and-out ball hunter at open side flanker, Sam Warburton, who has come back in for Justin Tipuric.

That has led to Wales recycling possession at 97 per cent of breakdowns and one way to negate them will be to try to out-scrummage the visitors and put them on the back foot – as good a clue as any to Euan Murray’s selection preference over Geoff Cross, a hero of the victory over Ireland.

Jettisoning Cross with his abilities around the pitch for Murray’s set-piece solidity is a gamble, but there is enough nous up front to be able to exert match-winning pressure and the backs have shown they have an eye for exploiting open field.

In the loose, the onus will be mainly on Warburton’s counterpart Kelly Brown and if the Scotland captain’s propensity for gaining turnovers and making more tackles than any other player in the tournament means anything it is that he is more than willing to put his body on the line.

Not for nothing is it the case that of the 54 players capped 50 times by Scotland only three have been back rowers who have to be first into rucks when boots are often flying. David Leslie, as good an open side as Scotland have ever possessed, ex-European player of the year and 1984 Grand Slam legend, one described his duties as “self sacrifice” and while Brown plays down his own bravery he admitted: “In my position you just go for it. We know it is a contact game. I just go for it.”

While Scotland failed to get across the try-line in the latest win, the boot of Greig Laidlaw proved unfailing. However, a heartening aspect of that success was the willingness of Stuart Hogg to take on a long-range effort and back-up for the metronomic Laidlaw must be welcomed. What would have been full back Hogg’s first points with the boot were not to be as the kick fell just short but he is ready if required to augment the firing line if the opportunity arises.

“It would have been my first points with the boot if the kick had gone over,” mused Hogg, who has notched three tries so far, but whose hopes of emulating fellow borderer Gregor Townsend (1999) with a try in each round of the tournament were dashed by the Irish.

He added: “It was disappointing to miss but the kick was a long way out. If I can take the pressure off Greig in any way I’ll be delighted, but I can’t really imagine that will be necessary very often. Along with Greig I’m always practising kicking under the supervision of Duncan Hodge and after the sessions we have competitions to see who buys the coffees.

“I have to say that Greig hasn’t bought a coffee yet.”

While a Hogg goal would be a first so, too, will be the sight of Glen Jackson running touch in a Scotland fixture at Murrayfield. The 38-year-old New Zealander will be known to some of the Scotland team as a fly half with the Saracens club until his retirement in 2010.

Since then he has moved into refereeing and progress has been meteoric, even taking the whistle when England defeated Fiji last Autumn on the Twickenham pitch, where he had signed off his playing career in a Premiership final against Leicester.

Brown said: “It sends out a good message that there is room in officiating for someone who knows the challenges the players face and that can only be a good thing.”

Wales travel as favourites with the bookmakers, but there hasn’t been a draw in this Championship yet, although there have been two in the past three years. It’s an intriguing thought . . . and odds of 22-1 for a stalemate are available!