THERE is one great intangible in team sport that regularly sparks moments of shock and awe in matches and the man wearing Scotland’s No 11 jersey this weekend has it in abundance.
Self-confidence is the substance. How exactly it has blossomed in Tim Visser, a lanky Dutchman born in a football-mad country to a father, Marc, who would become Holland’s most-capped rugby player, is anyone’s guess. He is not sure either, but a refreshing belief seeps out of him like spring water, and particularly during games on the biggest of stages and under the hottest of spotlights.
He has not experienced anything like what awaits on Sunday at Murrayfield, a Test match in a packed Murrayfield Stadium against a side that flattened Ireland 60-0 in June.
Visser is aware that he answered a form of SOS when he completed a three-year residency in Scotland, that turned him from orange to navy in the eyes of the International Rugby Board, and within days he had made his international debut, and scored a try in each half to help Scotland to a 37-25 victory over Fiji.
Shockingly, he did not score in his second Test appearance, against Samoa; shocking because he has a phenomenal record for marking great occasions with tries. He scored a last-gasp winner on his Premiership debut as a 19-year-old for Newcastle in 2006, touched down in his first two games with Edinburgh, whom he joined in 2009, and followed up with a score against Ulster on the occasion of his first Murrayfield appearance.
Some worry about his defence, but then they worried about Jonah Lomu’s defence throughout his career. It goes with the territory for big men. New Zealand will try to turn him, kick balls in behind and send two runners at the 6ft 4in wing, but they will also be desperate to double-team ‘TV’ in defence, knowing he represents a potent danger if allowed room to move.
Visser expects space to be singularly less visible than in his usual Murrayfield outings, and knows that he will be tested in ways he can’t yet imagine, throughout the 80 minutes, but it does not faze him. Asked if he still felt, as he usually does, a sense of expectation that his side will emerge victorious, he took a diplomatic line. “You can never expect to win, and we won’t be doing that on Sunday,” he said. “We always respect the opposition and, especially with the All Blacks, you’ve got to respect them, but it is just a game and whoever executes their game-plan better on the day will win the game. So we’ve got to go in there with a lot of confidence in our ability and in our game-plan.”
Asked then, if there was not an expectation, did he “think” Scotland would win, he nodded and smiled broadly. “I always think I’m going to win.”
With the exciting Stuart Hogg, the Hawick youngster, at full-back, a veteran wing in Sean Lamont with a point to prove, the canniness of Greig Laidlaw and daring of Mike Blair; the strength and desire of Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton, hard-headedness of Alasdair Strokosch, pace of Ross Rennie and guile of Kelly Brown – one Scot you could envisage in an All Blacks side – there are reasons to believe Scotland can be competitive. If the pack can shake the black eight – and they have been dealt a few bloody noses there – and then move ball through phases, Visser’s confidence and ability will be a major factor in whether Scottish hope can rise.
After two seasons of finishing the top scorer in the Magners League and RaboDirect PRO12, and being the stand-out performer of the Celtic ‘glitterati’, leading team-mates to look for him almost at every turnover, Visser accepts that while it may not be entirely comfortable there is a new level of expectation on his shoulders.
“There certainly is. I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, but I’m content with it. It comes with the track record and it would be silly for me to say that it shouldn’t be there, so I’ve got to take it as it is. It’s obvious because of what’s happened in the past but if I’m to live up to it I can’t score tries if we’re not playing the game that I need to score tries. I’m not a saviour and I can’t just score tries from anything. I live off what other people do. It all comes from a very complete team [performance].”
Asked for the secret of staying cool under pressure, he replied: “Just keeping a clear head, believing in your own ability and not getting dragged into the hype, I think. I believe in my own ability. Obviously, what I’ve been doing has been working for the past couple of years, otherwise I wouldn’t be here, so I’m just trying to continue that on the international stage.
“Being able to slip onto the radar on the summer tour in the Pacific was easier than playing in front of a sell-out crowd here at Murrayfield, but, at the same time, these sorts of games really get you going and I traditionally seem to perform in the bigger games so, hopefully, that will come into play on Sunday.
“The pressure of playing the All Blacks is there, but it’s on the whole team and the good thing about team sport is that you can share it with the rest of the boys.”