THEY evidently share more than just a name. Edinburgh centre Matt Scott has a grumpy guardian angel watching over him in Scotland’s director of rugby Scott Johnson.
The Aussie talked him up in public from the start, insisting that the midfielder was “as big and as quick as All Black legend Ma’a Nonu,” which was at least half right.
The point Johnson was attempting to make was that the self-effacing Scot lacks self-belief and, as a result, fails to assert himself on the field. Is it possible that, three years after making his Edinburgh debut, having accumulated 21 international caps and accolades from all corners, Scott still wants for conviction in his own abilities?
“I had quite a rapid rise to Test rugby,” he explains. “I was playing for Currie in club rugby, and then within six months I was playing for Scotland. When something like that happens so quickly, it can take a while to catch up with yourself. I’m maybe past that stage now. I know when I’m fit and raring to go that I can play well at Test level, but there are always areas in my game that I can work on.
“I feel quite lucky that he believes in me,” Scott says about Johnson. “It’s nice to have a coach who sees something in you. He really pushes me hard. When he was head Scotland coach, I never got a moment’s rest. He was always on my back. While he would say nice things about me in the press, he was never quite that nice to my face. He pushed me really hard off the pitch and I’m thankful for that. He is still doing that now. He does it to quite a lot of guys, but I am grateful to have someone who believes in my ability and pushes me beyond what I maybe think is possible.”
Scott will take his place in Edinburgh’s line up as the capital club go in search of their first 1872 Cup victory over Glasgow since they last won the trophy in 2009. The classy centre missed six months of rugby after injuring his shoulder last May and his return to the midfield gives Edinburgh a timely boost ahead of a game where most pundits have written off their chances.
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For a while Scott was the great white hope of Scottish back play but last season he found himself operating in the shadow of another aspiring midfielder, Glasgow’s Alex Dunbar, who seemed to mirror Scott’s achievements albeit one season later. Last year it was Dunbar who set the fastest time ever recorded by a Scotland back when he scored that scorching try against Italy in Rome. Dunbar has stolen a little of his thunder and Scott is out to steal it back when the two meet on Saturday.
“I obviously know his strengths and weaknesses pretty well,” says Scott of his sometime midfield amigo. “I have played with and against him quite a lot. He is getting a lot of good press at the moment and he is playing really well. But I’m confident in my ability to stop him, but he is the form centre at the moment and you have to respect him for that. He’s done well.”
1872 Cup coverage
The cognoscenti are already licking their lips at the prospect of Scott and Dunbar operating in tandem outside Finn Russell in the blue of Scotland, although that presumes that the national head coach knows who the Edinburgh man is. Scott has yet to play under Vern Cotter, having missed the summer tour and the autumn internationals because of that damaged shoulder and he jokes about the taciturn Kiwi coach not recognising him.
“I have just passed him (Cotter) in the corridor and said ‘hi’. ‘Sorry,’” comes Cotter’s imagined response, “‘do you work here?’”
Scott is a little short of time in the saddle but he is expected to take his place in the Edinburgh midfield for the big match where this normally selfless centre is focused entirely upon himself.
“I have had a lot of time out. I’ve not got long to put my hand up for national selection, and obviously that is in the back of everyone’s mind,” he says. “It is a great opportunity, as it is for everyone, but obviously me in particular.
“I always set quite high standards. I want to perform well in every game. It is quite easy to get carried away and think, ‘oh, these are the games where I need to step up’. But I try to pull myself back from that. I’ve had six months out and I’m improving every week. I feel like I’m getting more and more in sync with playing rugby again.
“These are two games on that road to being back to where I feel I am performing near my best. Obviously, the mind sharpens a bit because you know you are potentially going to be pitted against direct rivals for your national jersey, but while that is on the horizon I just really want to start playing well for Edinburgh and not get carried away with myself.”
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