Interview: Andy Irvine wants to see Scots steel
That daunting challenge will begin with the visit of Argentina to the BT Murrayfield Stadium this afternoon and now Andy Irvine is confident that, as a result, the national team can once again make the home of Scottish rugby a feared venue on the international stage.
A performance that draws on the “Scottish style” of play made famous by the great teams of the 1970s and 80s may be the aim, but Irvine, arguably the greatest Scottish full-back of them all, admits that a hefty dose of pragmatism must be applied to the national side’s game-plan against an Argentina side who have not lost in the capital since 1990.
Yet Irvine contends that Cotter’s first selection for a home international has the type of quality throughout that can once again make the Scots a side no one fancies lining up against.
While, in pointing to the emergence of Glasgow’s Finn Russell and Mark Bennett and the return to top of form of Stuart Hogg, Irvine cites three reasons that the back-line can make their supporters happy against the Pumas later today.
Speaking with a noticeable sense of anticipation, Irvine said: “I expect Vern Cotter will bring a good bit of steel to the Scotland set-up. If you look at what Vern achieved at Clermont, where they had that fabulous home record, then I think we can expect BT Murrayfield to become a very hard place to come to and that would be a very good place to start today.
“First of all, Vern has the respect of the squad, that was clear in the summer, and I think he has come in and brought with him a real sense of optimism.
“We know that back in the 1970s and 80s we had a great Scotland squad and no one liked coming to Murrayfield and I think that, with the current players that Vern has, we have the making of that all again. Foremost in making that happen will be getting the boys to play to the traditional strengths of the good Scottish teams and Vern believes in all of that.
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“When Scotland have played their best they have produced a dynamic game, played at a high tempo, that took into account we were not the biggest or most powerful nation physically, but still had strengths, with which, if we remained true to them, could hurt sides and make life very difficult for them.
“When I was a player, the team I hated facing was Langholm. They maybe only had 20 players but they played a horrible game and flew all over the park and it was very hard to combat and, comparatively speaking, that is what can work for Scotland.
“So we must be energetic, brave and play at a tempo and in a manner that will make us a horrible team to face and I think we will get that with Vern.”
Although Irvine accepts that a battle-hardened Argentina side, who have the benefits of their most competitive Rugby Championship campaign behind them, would be a big scalp for the Scots to take, he has no doubt that, with world champions New Zealand up next, victory is a must.
He explained: “The target has to be to beat Argentina and Tonga but we have to be realistic about playing New Zealand. They are the number one team on the planet and they are the world champions and have just won the Rugby Championship again, so what we are looking for against them is a fighting, combative performance in which we are competitive and let the All Blacks know they have been in a game.
“As for Argentina, they will be battle hardened and the team they are fielding today is one that is much stronger than when we beat them in the summer. On top of that, they have the confidence borne of having beaten the Wallabies in their last match.
“So they will be coming to Murrayfield looking for a victory and I think if we can beat them it would be a big scalp for us.” Casting his shrewd eye across the Scottish backline, Irvine is full of belief that the core of Glasgow players throughout it is a huge plus for Cotter, as the Scots look to play fast and loose against Argentina.
Irvine said: “We have several players in the team who are, on their day, world class and Stuart Hogg is one of them. He has once again been playing at the top of his game and hopefully that will also be the case for Scotland.
“It is also great to see young Mark Bennett getting his first start for Scotland. I have been really impressed with how he has come on and what impresses me are the lines he runs. Then, at 10, Finn Russell has been selected in front of Duncan Weir and Finn is a class act and a young man with an old head on his shoulders who has the ability to make the Scotland No 10 shirt his own for a number of years.
“With Tommy Seymour and Alex Dunbar also in the backs, we have a group of players, basically, with the exception of Greig [Laidlaw], the Glasgow backline, that has been playing with confidence, flair and belief and who are used to winning. That all bodes well for Scotland this autumn.”
While Laidlaw’s captaincy today may have come in the aftermath of the cruel injury that robs Scotland of Grant Gilchrist, Irvine has no doubt the Gloucester scrum-half was the sensible choice for skipper.
“Greig is a very safe pair of hands and, although the circumstances of him getting the captaincy and the unfortunate injury to Grant Gilchrist are far from ideal and very unfortunate, there is no doubt that Greig will do a fine job for us,” added Irvine.
“So Greig was the sensible choice. He won’t let Scotland down and, right now, he is in the form of his life at Gloucester. I think he was the perfect go-to man.”
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