Scots at home in the wet but hope for a dry start to new era
NEVER mind the warmth of the welcome, Australia is doing its damnedest to make the Scottish touring party feel right at home simply by opening up the heavens and unleashing the sort of deluge that would have had Noah ordering up the two-by-fours just in case.
The squad enjoyed a rest day yesterday in Newcastle although the port city two and a half hours north of Sydney is a little short on obvious attractions. Given the wet weather, there was not much for the players to do in any case expect Skype the folks back home or duck into the local cinema.
In fact, the only excitement came around 8.30 in the morning when an unnamed member of the management team managed to burn his toast and set off the fire alarm, with the net result that the entire squad were left standing on the pavement outside the hotel getting wet.
There was a time when the Scots would have delighted in the deluge, but not any more. Andy Robinson has picked a side to attack with the ball in hand, and nowhere is this more evident than in the selection of Scott and Scott. Matt Scott gets his first start at inside centre, just one of several problem positions, while Australian attack expert Scott Johnson gets to show what he can do for the first time against the team he used to coach.
When announcing the team at the weekend, Robinson said he wanted Matt Scott to “make his mark” on this tour, and there is undoubtedly a lot of pressure on the ball-playing centre to add a little creativity to what has occasionally been a one-dimensional midfield.
The centre lines up outside Greig Laidlaw, whose every inclination is to run the ball, and Johnson is finally in place as attack coach, several months after the appointment was made. His stocky figure belies the clever playmaker that he used to be, and all eyes are on Scotland’s under-performing division.
The world is divided on whether Gregor Townsend or the players were mostly to blame for Scotland’s miserable record of four tries in five matches during the Six Nations. Everyone might be in a better position to judge after Tuesday’s Test, but only if the miserable weather takes a rain-check between now and then.
Johnson is another controversial appointment, and no one can claim that Robinson has gone for the cheap option. Intriguingly, and only a week or so after he started his Scotland career, Johnson’s name was linked to the under-performing Waratahs in the well-respected Sydney Morning Herald who generally have their finger on the pulse.
In one recent history of Welsh rugby, the Australian coach was labelled an “emotional whirlwind”, although Scotland may well need a good shake-up after seven consecutive defeats, and one player at least is a dedicated disciple even before the first miracle which is what a win on Tuesday would represent.
“He is brilliant!” said full-back Stuart Hogg, one of the young Scottish backs that the Wallabies need to keep tabs on. “He is pretty good at training, and his ideas and knowledge of the game are phenomenal. He gives you little bits and pieces you have never heard of in the game of rugby.
“For example he shows you how to square up in attack, special moves. He is fantastic in his knowledge. He has made a massive difference in training in a short period of time and hopefully we can use that to make a difference in games.”
Hopefully they can, although not unless the rain lets up some time between now and tomorrow evening’s 7:30 kick off (10:30am UK time); not that it bothers Hogg one jot. “Playing at Mansfield Park I am well used to rain,” said the former Hawick star. “It’s always raining in Hawick and in Glasgow, so maybe the conditions will play into our hands if it’s wet and windy because it’s always like that back home.
“It will be a good pitch to play on so the boys are excited. A hard surface to run on will be good for us because we have a fast backline. We have not had that sort of surface for a long time.
“We have Mike [Blair] and Greig [Laidlaw] at nine and ten who are good rugby players and they understand the set plays superbly. When you go into midfield you have a young guy like Matt Scott who gets better and better. Sean [Lamont] has experience and it’s great to have someone like Joe [Ansbro] who is lightning quick on the other wing.”
Ansbro is back in the team after missing the Six Nations through injury. The London Irish player is probably happier in the centre but, in the enforced absence of Max Evans, who is tied to Castres, he has a chance of making the right wing position his own.
Lamont is a stalwart, and versatile with it, popping up on the left wing tomorrow after filling just about every position in the Scottish backline outside the half-backs. The leggy winger will be only too aware that the even larger figure of Tim Visser is looming large in his rear view mirrors. It may be that Ansbro and Lamont are playing for one place against Fiji.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west