As he prepares to help launch the RBS Six Nations Championship with Scotland at Twickenham next weekend, Matt Scott acknowledges that the clash with England just couldn’t possibly turn out as smoothly as it did the last time he faced the Auld Enemy.
That was in February last year just before Scott, an ever-present centre in Scotland’s last six internationals, stepped up to win his first cap from off the bench in Ireland.
Playing for Scotland A in their only fixture of the season, against England Saxons at Galashiels, Scott scored one of the home side’s four tries in a remarkable 35-0 rout. Of course, A line-ups are a mix of ambitious up-and-comings and full caps who can be excused feeling slightly disenchanted by those surroundings.
In a move that provokes some optimism ahead of next week’s trip south, there are no fewer than ten other members of the present Scotland squad played that night – Stuart Hogg, Peter Murchie, Duncan Weir, Henry Pyrgos, Pat McArthur, Dougie Hall, Ryan Grant, Rob Harley, Chris Fusaro and Richie Vernon.
What the memory also underlined for 22-year-old Scott, from Edinburgh, is how his outlook has changed over the past year. “It is very weird looking back to where I was at last year and comparing it to the present,” said Scott at an announcement that Macron had signed an agreement to be the Scottish team’s kit provider for the next four years, starting in the summer. “When the squad was announced I was speaking with (Edinburgh coach) Michael Bradley and he said ‘this time last year you’d have been dancing about’, now you are quite calm about it’ and I took that as a measure of how far I have come.
“It is funny how things can change over a year. A call to the A squad for the Saxons game was a big step up and a journey into the unknown.
“But without taking anything for granted, I feel comfortable at the top level and I am trying my best to put myself forward to start against England.
“If that A team experience helped prepare me, it was also quite strange how things unfolded. There were only ten of us originally nominated and the squad was later made up of a raft of players brought in from the seniors.
“There was only time for a single team run and it was straight in. It was a bit less organised and you just had to rely on your rugby skills as opposed to having lots of patterns to play from.
“I’ve really fond memories of doing that and the match eased me into playing representative rugby. That game was a bit one-sided, though.”
There will be plenty who would advocate a similar approach and who claim that rugby can be over-complicated.
Scott feels that extended preparation is not only essential but has helped familiarise the squad with a new coaching panel led by Scott Johnson.
“We’ve just had three tough days training hard in Glasgow and if my body is quite sore you have to prepare well for a tournament like the Six Nations.
“The emphasis has been on things we had to work on after the Autumn series – and the new coaches establishing themselves.”
Johnson wasn’t an unknown quantity having been brought in ahead of last summer’s Southern Hemisphere tour and Scott added: “What you see is what you get with Scott Johnson. What he says in the media is pretty much what he says to the players. He doesn’t beat around the bush. Especially when he is giving one-on-one feedback he won’t blow smoke up your backside. He’ll tell it as it is and what aspect of your game you have to improve for no other reason than to make you a better player and to make us a better team.
“(Forwards coach) Dean Ryan has been really positive since he came in and (throwing coach) Stevie Scott as well. I’ve been impressed with what they have had to say. Dean has spoken a lot with the backs as well.
“A lot of what happens at the breakdown is universal to every player and we need to be clued in to things like the tackle area which is massive now.
“There’s been a big emphasis on doing basic elements properly before we can develop any fancy stuff. Obviously I can’t go into too much detail about what we are going to do but it has been very positive. Rugby is quite a simple game and everyone plays the game in a similar way. It is just about us doing the basics right and maybe having a few extra things up our sleeve. It is only a short time we have together before the Six Nations so there is not going to be any radical changes.
“But it is no secret Scotland play well when we play at tempo and with high pace and when our defence is good. I have never been to Twickenham although I’ve been to all the other grounds and having the Calcutta Cup at stake straight away heats things up.
“With so many good centres around I’ll be extremely grateful if I get the chance to play in such an awesome stadium. Hopefully conditions will be better than on last week’s trip with Edinburgh to play Saracens in Watford. The weather was so bad it was anti-rugby based on trying to force mistakes.”