Vern Cotter will finally get his Scotland career underway this week as he arrives to take charge of his first match as head coach.
It has been 12 months since the New Zealander was named as Scott Johnson’s replacement but had to see out his contract with Top 14 side Clermont Auvergne before officially taking over the role.
His task is a formidable one – 16 games to turn Scotland from a team who have won just two of their last eight matches into one capable of turning in perfomances at next year’s Rugby World Cup.
And with much work to be done, defence coach Matt Taylor warns every fixture is vital and every player has something to prove.
“Any match now is important in the build-up to the World Cup,” he said. “There are a couple of guys who have not been capped on this tour – the likes of Finn Russell from Glasgow, who has popped his head up in the last six months.
“If he has a good tour, I’m sure he will be in contention to be a fly-half, maybe even the starting fly-half at the World Cup
depending on how he goes at this level.
“The new guys have to put their hand up. We have 16 Tests before the World Cup, so every one is important.
“Vern will be scrutinising every player and I would have thought that by the Six Nations, he will have in his head who is going to be the likely top 23.”
Houston is Cotter’s first destination with the United States the opposition on Saturday evening. Even though the hosts, who will be in Scotland’s World Cup pool next year, are ranked eight places below them at 18, Taylor – who played for a season in the city when he was in his early 20s – is warning his players not to expect an easy ride.
Ireland could only claim a narrow 15-12 victory over the United States at the same stadium last year, with the heat and humidity posing particular problems for the Europeans, who are more used to playing in snow and mud.
“The Americans are a very physical bunch. They are big guys and usually enjoy the strength and conditioning part of it,” Taylor said. “They ran Ireland close at their home park so it is going to be a tough game, especially with the heat.
“Last year when we played our first tour game against Samoa, I think the heat took a bit of sting out of our players. Whether we talk about that or just do our best mentally to embrace that, we have to be smart about it.”
However, Taylor acknowledges it is not just the players who need to impress Cotter, as the coaching staff will also come under his radar.
“I would not say I am nervous, I am looking forward to it,” said the defence coach. “He is everybody’s boss so I suppose everybody is looking to impress.
“I have had a few chats with him and he seemed to be happy and impressed with my work when he was over for a week earlier in the season.
“You want to do as well as you can to impress your boss and I am looking forward to working with him. He has had a lot of success – he was at the Crusaders before Clermont Auvergne and did some great work at both.
“I have learned a lot of different things from all the coaches I have worked with, that is why I like working with new people. You improve yourself.”
Scotland announced yesterday that stand-offs Ruaridh Jackson and Tom Heathcote have swapped places for this month’s summer Test tour schedule.
Heathcote, who has signed for Edinburgh, will now be in the Scotland touring squad for visits to Argentina on 21 June and South Africa a week later.
Jackson, meanwhile, joined the squad in Texas on Sunday ahead of Saturday’s Test against USA and he will also be in the group which will take on Canada in Toronto on 14 June.