So here is my professional, objective opinion after 18 months out of the Scotland side. This is the best squad of players I have seen in the professional era and I think Scotland will impress.
Since taking the job Vern Cotter has won 16 and lost 15 games and the reason for that success is down to two things; players and coaches. In days past we would be competitive in some of our matches but sometimes we got smashed.
That just doesn’t happen any more. Scotland are competitive in every game. Look at Vern’s record closely and you can see that most of those 15 losses where within bonus point territory. The only two embarrassments were against South Africa (55-6 with a weakened Scotland squad) and Ireland (40-10 when they needed a big score to lift the championship). Both games came in Vern’s first year, it hasn’t happened since.
This is because Scotland have a core of experienced world-class players who can perform at the top level on an international stage. One example of class is Finn Russell who is in great form, whilst Ireland’s Jonny Sexton, who Russell could be up against on Saturday, is limping back from injury
When I played for Scotland and we beat Ireland in 2013 there was a lot of kicking in a match which could only have been admired by the rugby purists. The game has evolved even in the last four years and the pitch quality is a world apart. Now rugby has become a game about power. That is why I think flanker Hamish Watson may miss out because Vern will want to counter Ireland’s power with big guys of his own in the back row; Josh Strauss, Ryan Wilson and John Barclay with perhaps the physicality of Cornel Du Preez to come off the bench.
I played against “Barcs” in the Champions Cup recently and he was an absolute pain at the breakdown, a very clever, physical player, although he’s the most miserable human being you could ever come across.
An Irish player I’m looking forward to seeing is Peter O’Mahony – we had some titanic battles. He is a warrior and personifies the Irish attitude to rugby. We need to match his levels of aggression and passion, and also CJ Stander’s power, if we are to beat the Irish.
I suspect Vern will look closely at Glasgow when picking his team. No disrespect to what Edinburgh have achieved but those big Champions Cup games are close to a Test match in terms of intensity, and those Glasgow boys are already conditioned to that style of play, which is important given how how much momentum Scotland would get from winning the opening fixture.
Wins for me against Ireland were rare but I enjoyed three. Once in a World Cup warm-up and again in 2013 at Murrayfield. But the 2010 win in Dublin, which was a little unexpected, stands out. Not just the enormity of the victory but the after-match events. We were celebrating in a Dublin nightclub. Me and Allan “Chunk” Jacobsen befriended a bunch of bearded hipsters in the VIP lounge who were sharing free drinks and seemed like cool guys.
All through the night people were coming over to ask for autographs and take photos. I actually apologised to the lads and told them we had just beaten the Irish and this was part of being a rugby player. As the guys departed the club there were huge scenes, cameras flashing, girls screaming. A security guard told me my new pals were the world-famous band, Mumford & Sons. Everyone who was coming over was wanting to meet them, not me. How embarrassing!
Let’s hope Scotland have good reason to celebrate just as hard come Saturday evening, I have a sneaky feeling they will.