Former Scotland captain Jason White believes Scotland have always felt more psychologically competitive with Australia than they have with the other two southern hemisphere giants New Zealand and South Africa.
It may have taken until the second last of his 77 caps to taste victory over the men in gold and green, when he came off the bench in the 9-8 win over the Wallabies at Murrayfield in 2009, but White believes that, while always a tough test, Australia don’t bring quite the same intimidating aura as the All Blacks and Springboks.
Scotland have registered a couple of wins over the South Africans since their return to the international arena in 2002 and 2010 but have famously never beaten New Zealand at any level.
White played against Australia six times in his career in total and, while expecting a fiercely difficult Test match on Saturday, feels the Scots will not fear the men from Down Under.
“I played a few times and got very close to them once or twice,” said the former back-row/lock forward. “In the World Cup quarter-final in 2003, we were very close at half-time. The next year we were close again and then lost. And then we beat them in 2009, when I came off the bench.
“I think there is belief because we have beaten them. That’s the key thing for us. We tend to match up okay in the forwards. They’ve never really outmuscled us in the forwards. South Africa can do that but we’ve never had that against Australia.
“They do have a bit of X-factor in the backs, but nothing we can’t cope with.”
While it is true that the Australian reputation is more as an inventive attacking backline that can hurt you from anywhere in the field, there are concerns that Scotland’s injury crisis in the front row could see them targeted at set-pieces.
White isn’t overly concerned. “If we manage Zander [Fagerson], he is a fantastic prospect at tighthead,” he said. “He now has the chance, and I’m sure he will pick up game time over the next few weeks, to go out there and show that he can really challenge WP Nel when he is fit again.
“For Zander to be playing as he is at his age in his position is really outstanding.”
A couple of rows back in the scrum, where White distinguished himself most frequently over the course of an outstanding career, there is conversely an embarrassment of riches for national coach Vern Cotter to pick from.
“We’ve always had that,” said White. “[John] Barclay, [John] Hardie, [Hamish] Watson, pictured above, [Ryan] Wilson, [Josh] Strauss. Then you’ve got the young guys coming through like Magnus Bradbury and Jamie Ritchie. I will be missing guys out because we are stacked at back-row.
“It’s now for the coach to work out the balance and see who can perform in international rugby. There’s a big difference between being a good club player and being able to influence a game of international rugby. That’s the real challenge.”
There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Watson’s performances at openside for Edinburgh this season and White has liked what he has seen. “He has been outstanding with ball in hand. Nobody seems able to put him down first up. You know he is going to break tackles.
“There are areas for him to work on, around the breakdown and his ability to chop tackle, but as with any back row player it is a balance. I prefer to look at the positives he brings, and he brings a lot of them.”
Now 38, White retired four years ago but remains close to the game through his job with Edinburgh-based sports management company Red Sky, who have a number of Scotland internationals on their books.
Before hanging up his boots, White had three years playing under Cotter at Clermont-Auvergne. He is an admirer of what the Kiwi has done during his time at Scotland but not surprised the well-known Francophile has opted to join Montpellier when his contract is up at the end of the season.
“Vern has moved us forward, without a doubt,” said White. “I think he has upskilled the players in terms of game understanding and game management.
“We’ve still got a lot to come from him. We’ve got eight more matches, three big ones in the next month.
“As ever, with any coach, you are at the mercy of your players. We are at a point where our first 23 or 25 players are really good, but in certain positions if we lose a few then that will have a big effect on results.
“Vern embraces everything about France. He loves the lifestyle, the hunting and shooting and fishing. It seems to fit with him well. My impression of getting to know Vern is that he is a very private man and he was able to live a private life in Clermont. I’m sure it will be the same in Montpellier.”
White had a brief taste of the Lions when he was a late injury call-up in 2005 and played one tour game against Auckland. He is hopeful Scotland can have better representation than they have on recent tours in New Zealand next summer.
“Our standout guys are WP Nel – when he gets fit and playing again – Jonny and Richie Gray, Greig Laidlaw, our centres, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour,” said White. “The key is momentum. If we come through the Six Nations, where we have not been too successful before the past few tours, then we could have five or six.”