'Exiles' ready to lend their weight to the Scottish cause

WITH the controversy over Scottish players being released by English clubs put to bed for a while, Scotland will launch their 2010 EMC Autumn Test series against New Zealand on Saturday thankful that they have a host of 'exiled' players back in the fold.

The English clubs' resistance has already come at a cost with the loss of Rory Lawson to a fresh injury playing for Gloucester last week when all the Scotland-based players were resting up for this week's exertions. But they will still take to Murrayfield this weekend with a squad more than half-full of players plying their trade outside the country, seven in the starting XV and five on the bench.

It represents a move away from the days of Matt Williams and parts of Frank Hadden's tenures when there was a clear move to pick more players based within the country's boundaries, not least with Williams' ill-fated "Fortress Scotland" plan. But Robinson clearly believes there is much to be gained from selecting players who have flown the nest.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The very fact that Kelly Brown, widely considered one of the most valuable players in the Scottish game, will be making his first appearance in an autumn Test match since 2006 on Saturday indicates both the struggles the flanker has had for recognition and why the 28-year-old opted to leave the country this year for Saracens.

Having played in every Premiership game this season and now preparing to better his longest run in the Scotland XV, of seven straight Tests, he is clearly pleased with the decision.

"I went to Saracens for a new challenge and if you are going to succeed you have to back yourself," he said. "We play in a different style so I have had to learn new things, and had to adjust quite a bit to the way they want to play. I play slightly wider out at times, for example, which is quite different to what I had been doing in my career so far, and coming back into the Scotland squad I have to adjust again, but it's easier going back and I believe that what I'm learning at Saracens will ultimately make me a better, more rounded player."

And that is where there should be a benefit for Robinson and Scotland. Brown is enjoying the ideas he has uncovered and the input he is having already.

"The Scotland coaches want an open-door policy and encourage us to feel free to express ideas and explain them to them. That's not to say we'll always follow them, but they certainly think about them, discuss them with you and consider whether to bring them into the plans.I also feel that really helps you as a player, to feel you have a real role to play in helping to take the team forward."

Sean Lineen and Rob Moffat are ambitious and independent characters, but the Glasgow and Edinburgh coaches are also working with the Scotland coaches to develop Scottish players in a style of game that they agree provides the best opportunity of being competitive at the highest level, so messages will be similar across the board.

Nathan Hines has been listening to French and Irish voices in recent years. Named on the bench this week, the Leinster lock who turns 34 this month has been supporting Richie Gray to ease the 21-year-old into his first Test start, and believes his life abroad is invaluable. "There can be advantages and disadvantages in having guys who stay in the home country because obviously there's less control over players who move, but if guys go to different clubs, learn from other coaches and bring that back here that's definitely to the benefit of the national squad," said Hines.

"It's about exposure to different stuff. The French 'Top 14' is a hard league. It made my game tighter and when I came back here I adapted it for Scotland."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Now a member of that exile brigade, Brown certainly carries an encouraging air of confidence ahead of this weekend's ultimate challenge.

"New Zealand are the best in the world and will be a very tough challenge, but the Australia game reminded everyone that they are beatable - they are only men."