IF THERE are traits that Scottish rugby players need more than any other, patience and deep-rooted self-belief must be chief among them.
Johnnie Beattie returns to the Scotland squad after nearly two seasons in the wilderness, but that is a spit compared to the length of time that Dougie Hall has waited to see his name on a Scotland teamsheet again. The Dingwall-born hooker, who attended Glenalmond School, made his Test debut off the bench against Wales in 2003 and has gone on to win 26 of his subsequent 38 caps as a replacement, too.
In fact, with his last start coming against Ireland in the 2007 Six Nations, he will end a run of 21 Test appearances off the bench against England at Twickenham on Saturday, on the occasion of his 40th cap. Clearly, he had little time for the selection policy of former coach Andy Robinson, and the intelligent hooker said that, for all his talk about how honoured he was simply to be in the squad, it was just that – talk.
“I am delighted to be in the team again,” he said. “I have not met anyone who wants to be picked to be on the bench. You take that as a consolation prize because you want to be involved. You put in all this hard work and you want to get on the field. But you want to start. That’s the end of the discussion. But ultimately, it [selection] is someone else’s opinion and, for the most part, most players would say they would always pick themselves. That’s the confidence you have got to have, the self-belief, as a professional player. I believe that every team I play for I make better.
“The selection this time is Glasgow-heavy but we’ve been playing well and, if the message is sent out there that, if you’re playing well and getting picked, then that can only be good for Scottish rugby.
“In my opinion the selection hasn’t been [right]. I think there were a lot of the same faces shown through Robbo’s tenure a coach. It’s his opinion and he’s a very good coach but did I agree? Obviously, on my part I didn’t because I didn’t get involved that much.”
Hall knows, at 32, he is nearer the end of his career than the start and, as well as he as been playing, he owes much of this selection to an injury to Ross Ford but he will not lose sleep over how long this opportunity might last. He revealed that Matt Williams, the Scotland coach in 2004-5, told him he wanted younger players as justification for choosing then 20-year-old Ford and 22-year-old Scott Lawson as deputies to Gordon Bulloch. Hall was 23 at the time.
He has suffered by comparison with Ford, a player who continually tops the charts for tackle counts, ruck effectiveness and other such “Key Performance Indicators” demanded of a modern pro. But Hall has been more consistent at lineout throwing than Ford lately and that will be a key part of Scotland’s bid for victory. Hall knows Ford will be pushing to get off the bench but, energised by a coach showing faith in his ability, he is looking forward to being in front of the challenger for a change.
“I hope it’s a strong message to everyone, that we’re going to pick on form and it’s not just going to be the same old faces week in week out,” he added. “That’s the backbone of international rugby and you need to know that you’re under pressure to perform for your club and your country and, if you’re not doing that, you’re not going to get selected.
“We have had peaks and troughs and way too many troughs recently, so we need to start laying the foundations again and building on them, and that’s where we start on Saturday.”
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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