Edinburgh centre Matt Scott has a law degree and is an articulate man but even he was left scratching his head a bit after an interesting, entertaining but, at times bewildering 80 minutes of rugby at BT Murrayfield on Saturday night.
Normally, a 61-13 win that takes you to the top of the table to kick the year off would be a moment for euphoria but the way this match unfolded left it with an asterisk attached. Southern Kings, through a combination of ill-discipline and bad luck, found themselves down to 12 men towards the end. Such were the gaps and space on offer even some of the ageing and weary inhabitants of the press box were thinking they could probably get a try.
The Kings were spirited and plugged away despite being hit by a barrage of blows, the first of which was a 12th-minute red card to tighthead prop Pieter Scholtz, rightly shown by female Irish referee Joy Neville for a forearm smash on John Barclay.
An injury to replacement prop De-Jay Terblanche when all subs had been used and then a yellow card for lock Aston Fortuin saw the Kings down to almost a football team and Edinburgh clinically took advantage.
“It was a scrappy game,” said inside centre Scott, who ran in the third of nine Edinburgh tries during a first half which was a much more even contest than the second. “Obviously the contest was over when they got that red card and then had to go down to 13 and then ultimately 12 – so it’s kind of hard to analyse it.”
For Scott, the 29-year-old whose last of 39 Scotland caps came in June 2017, it was another step forward in his bid to relaunch a stalled Test career as the Six Nations approaches after an impressive appearance off the bench following a rib injury in the previous Saturday’s 29-19 win over Glasgow.
“It was good for me to get 80 minutes under the belt,” he said. “I only got about 20 to 25 minutes last week. I’m just coming back to full match fitness really, so happy to get through it.”
A strange match, but entertaining for the 4,837 crowd, which was vastly down on the 27,437 who turned up for the 1872 Cup second leg. “The whole challenge this week was the mental side of it,” said Scott. “You need no more motivation than a big crowd and going against your closest rivals, to have that high.
“That’s always a challenge in sport – to play a team that’s bottom of your conference, albeit a really good side. You certainly saw that at the start of the game, we were slow and we were reactive rather than proactive.
“There was a bit of niggle out there on the pitch between us and rightly so, we needed more from each other. It was good we ended up solving it and winning it but there are definitely points to work on.”
Moments of slackness allowed the Kings to snatch a couple of tries and it was only 19-13 at the interval, but Scott revealed that there was no ‘hairdryer’ from coach Richard Cockerill at half-time.
“There was not a bollocking, he trusted us to sort it out on the pitch,” he said. “The leaders on the pitch stood up and said we had to wake up. That was the one thing we said before the game, we did not want to start sluggish, we wanted to blow them away and we didn’t do that, it was a contest until they got the guy sent off.
“Cockers, he picks and chooses his moments. For a coach, if you’re at that shouting level 24-7 it’s not going to have the desired effect when it’s needed. He obviously took pity on us at half-time and let us off.”
Scott’s return to form has led to many tipping him for a return to the Scotland squad and he isn’t disagreeing. “Yes, I feel confident in my game at the moment. I feel I’m close to getting back to my best. That’s been my target all season,” said Scott, who is in his second spell for Edinburgh following a two-year stint at Gloucester between 2016 and 2018.
“I’ve tried to get my body in the best shape possible and although I’ve had a couple of little injury setbacks along the way, I think when I have been out there I’ve managed to do some good stuff. I’m ready and waiting should the call come.”
Cockerill, for one, believes such a call would be deserved.
“Matt has put his hand up to be selected,” said the coach. “I think all our backs have been on good form – they are developing okay – and I think Matt’s a very good player. If Scotland need someone to play at 12 and dent the line, then Matt is quick and powerful and would do a good job.”
It was an eventful evening for Limerick referee Neville, in her seventh Pro14 match, and Cockerill said: “She just managed what she saw in front of her in a very awkward game. I thought she was calm under pressure and did a good job.”