WALES prop Paul James is heading for Murrayfield on Saturday and a reunion with his former coach at Ospreys, Scott Johnson – but this time they will be on opposing sides.
Australian Johnson has engineered Scotland’s two consecutive RBS 6 Nations victories against Italy and Ireland since he was installed as interim coach and now he has the Welsh in his sights.
Like a lot of the Wales players in action this weekend, James knows what to expect from Johnson, his former coach at the Ospreys who also took charge of Wales on a caretaker basis for three Tests in 2006.
Johnson is known for making colourful – and sometimes controversial – comments to the media, although James added: “He has been quiet this week. He usually likes a riddle or two. I know he likes to chuck out a few riddles to the press.
“I didn’t really ever take much notice of it to be honest [at the Ospreys]. Everybody knows what he’s talking about, it’s just the way he puts it across. It’s different – it keeps you on your toes as a player.”
It was a long time – six years to be exact – before James could exit international rugby’s one-cap club, but the fact he is now closing in on 50 Test match appearances and is a strong contender for this summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to Australia underlines how important a part he has become of Wales’ set-up.
A successful move to Aviva Premiership club Bath, with the player approaching the halfway point of a two-year contract, can also be credited with keeping him firmly in the Test match spotlight.
James will win his 44th cap in Saturday’s clash against Scotland, taking over from an injured Gethin Jenkins as Wales target a victory that would keep their title hopes alive.
Wales’ interim head coach Rob Howley admitted this week that it would have been a close call between Jenkins and James even had the Toulon loosehead not been laid low by a calf muscle injury.
James will be an integral part of Wales’ set-piece effort, and he is braced for a stern examination. He said: “If you look at Scotland’s games so far they’ve done really well in the scrums.
“If we can get a good platform going forward, we all know what we’ve got behind the scrum. If we can dominate up-front, that’s going to put us on the right step forward.
“So we’ve worked hard all week and, if us forwards can get together and do a job as a pack, then, hopefully, we can create some space and our backs can finish off behind..”