Damien Hoyland: First start for Scotland '˜best feeling ever'

When Vern Cotter announced his squad for the tour of Japan with only one player who had not been involved in either the World Cup or Six Nations, it was clear he was putting caution before experiment, experience ahead of raw potential.

Damien Hoyland will make his first start for Scotland in the first Test against Japan in Toyota City on Saturday. Picture: David Gibson/Fotosport

So it was a surprise when that single adventurous selection in the original group ended out making it not just into the squad for the first Test but into the starting XV, as Damien Hoyland, the player in question, freely admitted once the shock of seeing his name on the team sheet had worn off.

It represents a huge rebound for the young wing, who had been part of the World Cup training squad but only got a few minutes of action off the bench in the warm-up games and was axed before the tournament started.

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His end of season, however, has been spectacular, a run of games and scores for Edinburgh putting him second in the Guinness Pro12 try-scoring table, a cameo in the sevens side earned him a winner’s medal in London and a place in the team of the tournament. Now he has capped it all off with his first Scotland start.

“I could not really ask for much more, really,” Hoyland admitted. “When the sevens happened, I was going on about it being the best feeling I had ever had, but sitting there and seeing my name on the screen had to top it. It has been a great season, a great end to the season, I just want to finish on a high and then get a good break.”

The other changes had been reasonably obvious. With Finn Russell injured and Duncan Weir left at home, Ruaridh Jackson comes in at stand-off. Jonny Gray, who was injured for Scotland’s last outing in Dublin, returns to partner his brother Richie in the second row. Ross Ford has a calf muscle problem that might rule him out of the tour so Stuart McInally starts at hooker, and Matt Scott replaces Alex Dunbar in the centre.

“I’m hoping to give everyone a run during the two-Test series but Damien has impressed us with his positive growth and he finished the season well,” coach Cotter explained. “He went to the sevens and had a good result with them so he is full of confidence and I think it is a good time for him to be out there.

“Jackson has a great character. The experiences he has had and the fact he can play a couple of positions has helped. He gives us more of a square frontal attack, which is what we are looking for. He has been working on his skills so he can vary play, whether it is kicking, getting us out of trouble or attacking kicks.

“His passing and distribution have been good. He has good timing and he sees things in front of him. It is just a matter of going into the game with composure. I’m looking forward to seeing his performance.”

Huw Jones, the South Africa-based but Edinburgh-born centre who was later added to the squad, is still carrying a niggling toe problem and was not considered, so the rest of the side is the one that saw action in the Six Nations.

Richie Gray has proved his fitness after arriving late following club commitments in France.

“I feel great,” Gray said. “My head feels a bit cloudy and I am just getting used to the jet lag, but I got a good night’s sleep last night and my body feels pretty good.”

He is one of the contingent who have some idea what to expect, having been part of the 2009 Under-20s side that played in the Junior World Cup in Japan. “It was a bit warmer when I was here first,” he added. “I don’t mind it. The last month has been hot over in France and I am getting slightly more used to it.

“When we played them [Japan] in the World Cup [last year], they were difficult to defend against. They used a lot of tempo which is tough to deal with. They maybe caught us off guard a bit. I am expecting them to be well disciplined and to be well drilled in what they do.”

It is a warning that has been well hammered into the team by Cotter, who has made it clear how seriously he is taking these games.

“They play well together,” Cotter said of tomorrow’s opponents. “Their cohesion is probably one of the best in world rugby at the moment. Individually, [Amanaki] Mafi [the back row] created problems for us at the World Cup; he is dynamic and explosive.

“Every test match is important. We like to think we set our standards of performance pretty high. It is just a matter of getting them up to where we want them and maintaining them and that’s something we have been practising.

“It has been a long season, but we want continuity. We feel that there are things from the Six Nations campaign that we can improve. One of the motivating factors behind this team is to keep moving forward, not sit back and go through the motions.”