TALK of new eras in Scottish rugby is rivalled only for monotony by the mentions of a ‘new stand-off’ genius to take a grip of the Test team.
There is no position that is more talked about in the game and, as Tom Heathcote steps into the pivotal role in Durban’s King’s Park, nowhere will there be more interest in a performance. He makes his first start exactly a year to the day that he was steering England under-20s to a 20-15 victory over their Ireland counterparts, coincidentally in South Africa.
The English team playing in the current Junior World Championship have another five Scottish-qualified players. Andy Robinson moved last year to persuade Heathcote that he could be part of Scotland’s plans, having been born in Inverness when his Nimrod pilot father was stationed at RAF Kinloss, but the fly-half has had to wait until this week to savour his second appearance and is thankful that this time he will start.
“Yes, definitely,” he said. “Getting your first start is another massive step forward from being involved off the bench. It is really exciting to be on from the start of the game rather than coming on with ten or 15 minutes left to play.
“Getting that cap was just a one-off at the time. I obviously wanted to be involved throughout the Six Nations, but wasn’t, which was frustrating. But I knew at that point that I was fully committed to Scotland and I was 100 per cent behind my decision.
“I knew that being involved again in the team was down to me, to the work I put in on the quality of my play. I think the fact that I got the opportunity again shows the improvements I have made.
“In the eyes of the coaches, I have earned to this opportunity and that’s a big thing to me.”
Scotland fans are eager to see a stand-off able to control a game and add to the growing strength in depth, with players Ruaridh Jackson, Duncan Weir, Peter Horne and Harry Leonard bringing fresh hope to the ten jersey.
• The Castle Test Series is being watched closely by the rugby authorities with fears that the stadia will not be full. The South African Rugby Union (SARU) have taken over management of Test fixtures, having in the past released the games to traditional provinces, for a fee, and there has been criticism locally of poor ticketing and marketing schemes. King’s Park holds 55,000 people, but local opinion is that less than 30,000 will turn up.
This could also be the final time that King’s Park, which has hosted legendary British and Irish Lions and Springbok triumphs, and Super Rugby classics, hosts Test rugby.
There are moves by the South African government to push SARU to make more use of the football stadia built at extravagant expense for the FIFA World Cup in 2010.