Rob Harley: I’m in Paris thanks to Warriors medics
iT IS hard to describe just how nervous I was before the announcement of the Scotland team but, sitting in the dressing room at BT Murrayfield on Thursday morning before the side to face France was unveiled, my heart was pounding, to say the least.
Following the severe leg bruising I sustained in the 1872 Cup derby first leg against Edinburgh at Scotstoun on 27 December I had been engaged in a race against the clock, firstly just to make the Scotland squad and then to convince Vern Cotter and the coaching staff I was fit enough to play at the Stade de France.
As I sat there with the rest of the squad and watched the front-row go up on the screen, followed by the second-row and then finally the back-row, there were so many emotions churning inside of me and, when my name lit up, the relief was immense.
Two years ago I was the 24th man at the Stade de France and I wondered then if I would ever have the chance to play at this fantastic ground and at last it was confirmed that my time had come and for that I owe a huge debt of thanks to the Glasgow medical and physio staff.
When I limped off at Scotstoun I honestly thought the RBS Six Nations was gone for me but their expertise and that of the Scotland medical staff, plus plenty of hard work, has paid off. Now I can focus on doing what I do best and making sure I play my part in helping to execute our gameplan.
Although it was fantastic to play in all of the Autumn Tests, to be starting in the opening game of the RBS Six Nations for the first time will be a special moment for me and one I will never forget but now it is about making that the case for all the right reasons.
Obviously there is the old cliché that the best time to get France, in Paris, is in the opening game of the RBS Six Nations but I’m not so sure about that.
They are a fantastic team full of world class talent. At home, in front of a packed Stade de France, they will be absolutely determined to start with a victory against us.
For me their captain Thierry Dusautoir is a stand-out figure with his ferocious defence and speed at the breakdown.
Today will mark the first major sporting occasion held in France after the Charlie Hebdo tragedy and I am sure the French side will be proud and passionate at the chance to represent their people.
But we have our own motivation and one of the factors that Vern Cotter spoke about in the build-up has been the fact that no Scottish side has won in France since 1999.
However, the point Vern has made is that we have become a Scotland side who have already become good at ending bad runs.
During the summer tour last year we defeated Canada in Toronto, which was the first time a Scottish side had triumphed over there in quite some time and then we became the first Scotland team to beat Argentina at Murrayfield in 24 years back in November. So the point is very much that records, be they good or bad, are there to be broken.
I have been involved with Scotland now for a few years now and I am really enjoying working under Vern Cotter and his coaching staff and very much feel I am improving and developing both as a player and a person as a result.
The attention to detail is forensic and the emphasis is very much on making sure that every rep is as close to perfect as possible, from measuring our power and depth in the gym to every lift we do at lineout practice.
In terms of the benefits to my game there has been a lot of emphasis on improving your skill-set and decision making in open play.
Vern is very strong on playing what is in front of you and placing the onus on all the players to read the defence and pass or carry depending on the situation.
We have also done a lot of work on things like evasion and it’s fun to test our skills against each other. Unfortunately I got cleanly stepped by Pete Horne in a one-on-one drill, something which always gets cheered by the rest of the players. Although training camp has flown by this week you always have some downtime and table tennis has been the traditional Scotland camp pastime for as long as I’ve been in the squad.
It’s a bizarre thing that probably the two best table tennis players are Henry Pyrgos and Greig Laidlaw… seems like a large wingspan is a disadvantage in this sport!
Anyway the preparation is almost complete now and the waiting nearly over and we are going to Paris very much with the belief that this is a huge opportunity for us as a team to lay down a marker.
After the trip to the Stade de France we have three of the four remaining matches at BT Murrayfield. There is a real onus on us to start out strong and you can be sure that every player who is lucky enough to be wearing a Scotland jersey on Saturday night will be doing everything he can to help secure another famous Scottish victory in Paris.