A NEW team but not a fresh start, according to Rob Harley, the Scotland flanker who is preparing to tackle Argentina in Cordoba on Friday.
As the second draft of players arrives ready to try to make their mark, the foundations have already been laid with two wins in North America, Harley says.
It is up to the group of players added for the Southern Hemisphere leg to build on those achievements.
“It is a strange one,” said Harley about joining the tour halfway through. “There are guys who played in that match against Canada and have travelled down but also a lot of new guys. We are trying to build on what we did and build it up. Every training session gives us a base; that’s our level and we have to step up. I hope we will see that against Argentina.
“Players are always going to he hard on themselves when they are playing because you analyse all the stuff so deeply but, watching the last game, there are a lot of positives. The way they attacked looked dangerous, especially the driving maul. The last two games have shown times when they have set up chances, got it tight and got going for the line. They may not have quite got the ball over the line but they certainly set something up. Against Canada, they had a lineout [maul] that finished a metre short and sucked in enough defenders to create an easy try for Grant Gilchrist.”
That said, Harley wasn’t there. Instead, he was part of a group who must have attracted a few stares as they waited for their connecting flight to South America at Heathrow Airport. “We got the laptop out and were all crowded round trying to peek over,” he said. “We were just fans watching the game and getting as excited as everyone else. I tend to get caught up in the excitement of it as a Scotland fan and it was exciting to see the way they played.”
Which is typically diplomatic of Harley, who would never dream of criticising a team-mate in public. He knows, however that the number of mistakes Scotland made would have hurt them even more against a top-four side and with South Africa, who are ranked second in the world up next week, big improvements are needed.
Harley, is guaranteed a place in the squad for Friday and will almost certainly start, although he claims he is taking nothing for granted. “I’m just really glad to be here, it is amazing to go on tour with Scotland, it is good to go to foreign places and that is part of the excitement building up to a Test match,” he said.
“We have four back rows at the moment and Tim Swinson [the lock] has been telling everybody all week that he can play back row as well – so there is always that nervousness waiting to hear if you are picked. It is good for training as well because everybody is trying to put their hand up and get himself into that jersey.”
The big problem comes next week when Harley is set to be one of only two back rows from the current squad travelling on to South Africa. It makes him and Chris Fusaro, the other flanker, a particularly important part of the squad, who really cannot afford to pick up injuries.
On the other hand, every player knows that, if you try to avoid injuries, they are more likely to come, so there is no prospect of Harley holding back.
“I don’t think it is something you think about. When you are out there you are totally focused on playing the game. There is always a guy stepping up, if someone goes down, they will bring someone up who can do a job so in terms of the team it is a conveyer belt with new guys always waiting,” Harley added.
Argentina have been ringing the changes. All the big-name European stars are being held back for the Rugby Championship, the Southern Hemisphere equivalent of the Six Nations, but this is pretty much the team that nearly beat Ireland last weekend and their confidence can only have been bolstered by Scotland’s problems.
“They played a lot of good rugby,” Harley acknowledged. “Always with Argentina they come with the mindset that they will dominate the pack. They are always very physical while they have a lot of talent in the backs.
“They have a lot of good, dangerous runners so there is an emphasis on our defence to front up and not give them the holes because if they spot a half-gap, they are through.
“We are expecting a physical match-up and that is what we are geared towards in all phases of the game, attack and defence.”
It will be all of those things but, for Harley and his mates, it is a case building on the good bits out of what happened in the first two Tests while trying to use the new blood to cut out the bad bits.