SCOTLAND will go into their final RBS Six Nations match of the year eager to grasp a second win and, if the excitement of debutant Dougie Fife is any guide, they are confident of pulling it off.
The 23-year-old will become the fifth winger to be used by Scotland in this championship after injury claimed Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont and Tommy Seymour on top of the already crocked Tim Visser. Max Evans lines up on the other flank, where he will face Alex Cuthbert, who, at 6ft 6in, is eight inches taller. Fife, at 6ft 1in, goes up against the 6ft 4in and 17-stone George North.
A sold-out 74,500-capacity Millennium Stadium, where the closed roof amplifies the incredible sound of the Welsh supporters, is as daunting a place as any to make your international debut. And, taking in the stadium yesterday, Fife insisted: “Now it’s starting to feel a bit more real and I can’t wait. I feel that I’ve performed well for Edinburgh and this is the next step. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. No-one is going to be easy to play against at this level. They have a big bunch of backs who have played together for a long time. I played against George in our pre-season fixture down at Northampton and I’ve played against Cuthbert quite a few times. They are good runners with a lot of pace and are very direct so you just have to go low and put your body on the line.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this before but I’ve just got to keep my head. It will be a massive occasion, with a big crowd and, personally, it will be huge, but the team comes first, that’s the main thing.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge, especially here on their home ground. It doesn’t get much better.”
Maintaining focus was the key message that head coach Scott Johnson stressed to his players yesterday in the final captain’s run ahead of what will be his last match in charge before stepping aside to make way for New Zealander Vern Cotter. Johnson has strived to improve the strength of his squad, but struggled to find consistency – the Holy Grail in Scottish sport. So the team know that defeat today would leave them with the common, disappointing Six Nations finish of a solitary win. But, while a first win in Cardiff since 2002 would still mean only two victories, it would be a significant result against the reigning Six Nations champions.
Johnson believes that today’s match will hinge on whether this Scotland team have learned the lessons of how to be consistently good at the set-piece and breakdown areas, and then show the necessary composure to turn those platforms into victory in the final quarter.
He was clear that he has no concerns about Fife, who he feels will thrive in the Cardiff atmosphere, and he was quietly confident that the Scottish side will go toe-to-toe with a Welsh team desperate to finish their season at home on a high.
Fife is typical of young players beginning to emerge in Scotland where, despite the lack of success at youth level, they have a confidence that this is a stage that they have spent their young lives preparing to grace.
Fife added: “I never thought it would be here because, as a kid, you go to Murrayfield a lot so you always picture that, but I did grow up always aiming to play for Scotland.
“You get a good taste in the age-grade stuff and you hope to progress and follow in the footsteps of some of the boys you’ve played with in the past.
“I have a lot of people to thank for getting me here, from my club coaches at an early age right through. There were role models like Chris Paterson as well. I watched him when I was a kid and at Edinburgh, and my mum [Shirley] and dad [Jim] will be here to watch. It’s always a shame when someone gets injured, and Tommy [Seymour] is a great guy, but it’s a great opportunity for me. They [experienced players] have said that it won’t get much better atmosphere-wise, so I should try to enjoy it. I don’t know how much I will enjoy it because I just have to get my head down and focus on the game.”