Scotland v Canada - Scots happy to fly under radar

Scottish skipper Greig Laidlaw gets in some kicking practice at BDO Field in''Toronto. Picture: SNS
Scottish skipper Greig Laidlaw gets in some kicking practice at BDO Field in''Toronto. Picture: SNS
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VERN Cotter is not the type to look for the limelight and playing Canada in the middle of June, especially this June, is about as low key as it’s possible to be in international rugby.

Cat burglars make more of a splash than Scotland have managed in Toronto, which is hardly surprising given the quality of the competition they have faced.

The NBA finals are in full flow and ice hockey’s Stanley Cup final is hogging the Canadian headlines, despite being contested by two USA teams, the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings.

The US Golf Open is there for those who prefer their sport more sedentary and that is even before taking account of the football festival taking place in Brazil, an opportunity to show the multi-cultural nature of this diverse city with cars sporting any number of national flags.

Canada Rugby are hoping for 15-20,000 at the BMO stadium (home of Toronto FC and Jermaine Defoe) or, to put it another way, the same approximate numbers that the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team attracted on Wednesday afternoon while losing heavily to the Minnesota Twins midweek.

The sporting world is going about their business as Scottish rugby goes about theirs and, you suspect, that this relative anonymity suits everyone quite well.

The Scots are in a miniature rebuilding phase, bedding in a new coach who, in turn, is bedding in any number of new players. Cotter is going about his business sotto voce, looking, learning and drip feeding information and ideas rather than attempting to change the world in a week.

“He doesn’t say much,” said skipper Greig Laiwlaw of his new boss, “but he is a big imposing figure and when he does speak everyone listens.”

Cotter clashes heads this afternoon with an old foe he played against in New Zealand NPC, Canada’s Kiwi coach Kieran Crowley and, after the match, he will doubtless have a beer and a blether with Jamie Cudmore who he coached for eight years at Clermont.

Cotter has made a good impression in a short time and just about the only time he has hit a bum note was in talking up the USA and Canada as real dangers to Scotland. Defence coach Matt Taylor was at it again yesterday.

“We’re lucky enough that we know the two wingers very well,” said the man who is tasked with stopping them. “Taylor Paris, who was at Glasgow, and you’ve got Jeff Hassler on the other wing who is a very good player at the Ospreys.

“We know these players very well and you’ve got DTH [Glasgow’s winger van der Merwe] on the bench.

“Their back three are very potent and they have been scoring some great tries. Taylor scored a length-of-the-field try [against Japan last weekend] so we have thought about trying to shut them down and having a good defensive scheme against them. We have talked about it and worked on it in training.”

Taylor is right to treat any and all opponents with respect but Canada are ranked 16th in the world, eight places below Scotland and, with more than one third of their starting XV playing amateur rugby in Canada, they will be necessarily limited by a lack of intensity if nothing else. If they can’t beat Japan, Canada can’t realistically expect to stick one on Scotland in what are expected to be near perfect conditions in Toronto this afternoon.

Cudmore will make a nuisance of himself, Canada’s two big centres Ciaran Hearn and Nick Blevins will run hard at Scotland’s ten-twelve channel in the hope of getting some change from Finn Russell and Peter Horne, two of Scotland’s smaller backs, and the specialist openside John Moonlight will give Kelly Brown and Alasdair Strokosch a hurry up at the breakdown, where Canada are always physical, but if Scotland are hoping to be competitive in next season’s Six Nations, they need to see Canada off.

“I think the Canadians are similar to the Americans,” Taylor continued, “in that they are very athletic. They are quite physical, they are quite good in the conditioning part of the game and they have some really explosive type of players so we will need to be right on our game from a defensive point of view.

“They attack from anywhere on the pitch and they kick the ball one of the least amounts that we have seen in international rugby. I suppose that is a double-edged sword because, if you defend well and they run it from their half, you can put them under pressure.

“Conversely, if you don’t defend well you can put yourself under pressure. We’re up for the challenge.”

Laidlaw is kept on as captain despite the return of Kelly Brown and he underlined the fact that Cotter wants this team to enjoy their rugby, playing at pace and attacking with the ball in hand. “If you pick your head up and you can see it’s on, just go, just go for it” said Laidlaw reporting Cotter’s match instructions. “Don’t worry about the repercussions if you run it and it doesn’t work. Just go back and do it again.”

Scotland have suffered at the hands of some second tier nations in recent years, with losses to Tonga in Aberdeen in 2012 and Samoa in South Africa only last season.

Canada are an entirely different proposal and, if both teams play somewhere close to their full potential, then Scotland should win by 15-20 points, maybe more.

“I’m not a bookie but I fancy Scotland tomorrow,” is Laidlaw’s honest appraisal. “We had a good base against the USA in tough conditions. The conditions are favourable this week and I think our defence, if it steps up to the plate again, I’d like to think we’d be up there.”


At BDO Field, Toronto, today, 7.10pm BST

Live on BT Sport 2


15. J Pritchard (Bedford)

14. J Hassler (Ospreys)

13. C Hearn (Castaway Wnds)

12. N Blevins (Calgary)

11. T Paris (SU Agen)

10. H Jones (Capilanos)

9. P Mack (James Bay)

1. H Buydens (Manawatu)

2. A Carpenter (Cornish Pir)

3. J Marshall (Std Rochelais)

4. T Hotson (London Sco)

5. J Cudmore (Clerm-Auv)

6. J Sinclair (London Irish)

8. J Moonlight (James Bay)

7. T Ardron (Ospreys, c)


16. R Barkwill (Niagara)

17. A Tiedemann (Castaway)

18. J Ilnicki (Castaway)

19. Kyle Gilmour (St Albert )

20. J Phelan (Castaway)

21. G McRorie (Calgary)

22. C Braid (James Bay)

23. DTH vd Merwe (Glasgow)


15. S Hogg (Glasgow)

14. S Maitland (Glasgow)

13. S Lamont (Glasgow)

12. P Horne (Glasgow)

11. T Visser (Edinburgh)

10. Finn Russell (Glasgow)

9. G Laidlaw (Gloucester, c)

1. G Reid (Glasgow)

2. S Lawson (Newcastle)

3. M Low (Exeter)

4. R Gray (Castres)

5. G Gilchrist (Edinburgh)

6. A Strokosch (Perpignan)

7. K Brown (Saracens)

8. J Beattie (Castres)


16. K Bryce (Glasgow)

17. K Traynor (Bristol)

18. G Cross (London Irish)

19. K Low (London Irish)

20. B Cowan (London Irish)

21. G Hart (Edinburgh)

22. R Jackson (London Waps)

23. M Evans (Castres)