SCOTLAND head coach Vern Cotter has made progress the name of the game for the Autumn Test Series.
The Scots will face Argentina and New Zealand at Murrayfield on 8 and 15 November, before going on the road to face Tonga at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, on Saturday, 22 November.
The national side ended their four-game summer tour with a 55-6 thrashing by South Africa and Cotter is determined that his side will use the forthcoming Tests to demonstrate they are taking significant strides towards the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which starts in just under a year.
The straight-talking Kiwi is also demanding that the Scots use their club fixtures to put a hand up for selection for the Autumn Test Series squad.
While Cotter admitted that Scotland were “not ready yet” for the RWC 2015, there was a quiet confidence about the national coach as he looked forward to the 12-game countdown to the greatest rugby tournament of them all.
Speaking in Glasgow at the launch of the Scotland As One marketing campaign to publicise the Autumn Series, he said: “It is obvious we are not ready yet. That is why the last game of the summer tour against South Africa has supplied us with such an important reference point. Sure, it was the end of a long and hard season, but there are things we need to get right. We want to be as competitive as we can be when we play the All Blacks and of course Argentina and Tonga.
“So it is going to be about being consistent and we will get an idea about what progress we have made since that game and what progress we are going to need to make before we go into the Six Nations.”
Cotter continued: “We have a young generation coming through and when we get past the Autumn Test Series we will see how we are standing and then hopefully we move on in the Six Nations in which we will be playing for wins and to be as competitive as we can be.
“Then it is on to four pre-Rugby World Cup preparation games and we want to be going into them as strongly as we can from the Autumn Series and the Six Nations and hopefully have some momentum from these two sets of games.”
As he dissected the Autumn Series, Cotter had no doubt it would supply the perfect preparation for his men. “I think we have a great mix. We have the best team in the world in New Zealand, we have an Argentina side who will be coming to us off the back of a hardened campaign in the Rugby Championship and we also have a Tonga team who have caused Scotland bother in the past,” said Cotter.
He continued: “We will take these games as they come. It is great that we have the Argentina and New Zealand games at Murrayfield and then we have Tonga on a synthetic surface at Rugby Park, and that we are moving around the country a bit.
“Murrayfield is a far better surface than it was a year back and we will be able to put speed into the game. The synthetic surface will also be an experience for the boys. So from my perspective it is just three great games.”
The 52-year-old also admitted that he is subjecting contenders for his squad to constant scrutiny and urged the players to state their case for selection in the strongest terms with their clubs, something, in the wake of Edinburgh’s nine-try humiliation by Ospreys, that will not be easy for the capital side’s Scotland contingent.
“I think the most important thing is that the players give themselves the opportunity to be selected through their clubs and we are looking at what they are doing,” said Cotter.
He continued: “We have stayed in regular contact with the players since the summer and let them know what we want them to be doing and obviously it is great that Glasgow have been doing so well and a lot of players have been putting their hands up.
“I might well take a trip out to France next week to monitor some of our boys out there like Richie Gray and I’m pleased for him that Castres have got a win and are up and running. So the reality is that we have three great Autumn Tests ahead and we have players who are dying to be selected for them.
“The most important thing for us is that players are putting their hands up right now.”
But there was a warning for South African-born duo, Glasgow No 8 Josh Strauss and Edinburgh tighthead WP Nel, both of whom will be Scottish qualified by the time we get to RWC 2015.
Cotter said: “WP Nel and Josh Strauss will be Scottish qualified and so they will come into the reckoning, but that will only be if they are fronting up for their clubs and putting in consistent performances.
“So if they can prove they can contribute something extra to the Scottish team they will be considered because they will be eligible.”
Scotland v Argentina - Sat 8 Nov, Murrayfield (5:30)
Scotland v New Zealand - Sat 15 Nov, Murrayfield (5:30)
Scotland v Tonga - Sat 22 Nov, Rugby Park (2:30)