KELLY Brown took one glance at the rain and fierce wind blowing off the North Sea and declared himself delighted to be in Scotland’s North East preparing to face Tonga.
The Scotland captain acknowledged the obvious, that he would rather be sitting in Aberdeen with two wins over New Zealand and South Africa under his belt. But, with Scotland still seeking their first home win of 2012, he is clearly hoping to get his reign as skipper moving with victory in his third Test at the helm. The freshness of a shift away from Murrayfield and shake-up of the team was helping to rejuvenate the side, he said.
“It’s always good to come up here,” he said. “My first start for Scotland was up here in 2005 against the Baa-Baas and we’re really looking forward to it.
“I was really excited then and it was the first time that Scotland won against the Baa-Baas, so it was a very exciting start to my Scotland career.
“But what has been great has been to see the excitement in the city. All the guys have been out visiting schools or clubs and there is a real buzz around the place. It is obviously because they don’t see international sport up here that often and it’s been really refreshing to see that.
“I love playing for Scotland and being in the Scotland camp, but, on top of that, it’s exciting being up in a new city and playing in a different venue.”
Scotland also have a good record at Pittodrie, with Test wins over Canada and Samoa added to that historic first win against the Barbarians, which also marked the beginning of Frank Hadden’s tenure as Scotland coach.
Tonga are ranked 12th in the world, with Scotland tenth after the Springboks defeat but, aware that the last Pittodrie win, in 2010, required a last-minute penalty from Ruaridh Jackson to edge out Samoa, Brown was not reading much into statistics.
He said: “We obviously have good memories of the place but it’s up to us to make sure we go out there and fire on all cylinders. The first two matches we’ve shown in patches what we can do but, for us, it’s about going out there now and really nailing an 80-minute performance.
“It’s not about me [sealing a first win as captain], it’s about the team being successful and that’s all I’m interested in.
“It would have been better if we’d won but I’ve enjoyed the challenge, the experience, and feel very honoured to have been asked to captain Scotland and I will strive to do as good a job as I can for as long as I’ve got that honour.
“We have played against the first and second best sides in the world and now we’re playing against the side that beat France in the World Cup so they’re a very, very dangerous side but it’s a challenge that we’re looking forward to.”
Brown said the players were excited by the arrival of Tom Heathcote, the Bath stand-off, who is in the squad for the first time having decided two months ago to turn his back on England after age-grade caps and throw in his lot with the land of his birth.
Max Evans’ return to outside centre also provides a new spark and, with Richie Gray expected to be fully recovered from the concussion that forced his early withdrawal from the South Africa match, Brown is happy with the potency in the home side.
But what does he expect of the opposition in this final Test match of the year? “They are all professional players and have a very strong pack,” he said. “The tighthead plays at London Irish with Scott Lawson and he says that he’s been very impressive for them all season, so there’s no doubt that we’re expecting a tough test. They will bring a lot of physicality and a lot of passion and they have players through the side that had a little bit of magic so we have to make sure we stick to our defensive structure and impose ourselves on them.
“But we always do our analysis so we’re aware of the strengths, threats and weaknesses of any side we play against, and it comes down to how we play. It’s about us imposing our game as opposed to letting the opposition dictate it. That’s what we’re looking to do. We’ve done it in patches, but we need to do it for 80 minutes on Saturday.”
Scotland are seeking to avoid a first calendar year without a single home victory since 1998 – when only South Africa were the autumn visitors. The forecast is for decent weather tomorrow – no repeat of the snow of the last two trips north – and Brown is both confident and wary of the dangers of South Sea Islanders to finish their tour well.
“So are we,” he added. “I missed the start of it [this year], but we have had our highs and our lows and we’re looking to finish it on a high.
“Every time we play a home match we want to give the crowd something to shout about. I know it’s there and that we’re capable of putting in an 80-minute showing and it’s up to us now to go out and do it.”