You might have thought that, after experiencing Gregor Townsend’s coaching at Glasgow Warriors, Tim Swinson would know exactly what to expect from the man in charge now that he is running Scotland.
You’d be wrong. Swinson admits that after getting used to Townsend’s demands that they play fast, high-tempo rugby at Glasgow, his big takeaway from the first few weeks of the new man is that he wants to step the pace up even more.
“Everything is faster,” he said. “The couple of weeks in St Andrews and Edinburgh were very intensive. Everything was very focused, it was good to do that but we could still have a good laugh. It is very clear what we need to do and what he wants us to do, which is good.”
The team have now had their first proper training session since arriving in Singapore, most of the players appearing to cope with the heat with a remarkable degree of comfort – even if training in back-to-front baseball caps is not quite in the grand old traditions of the game.
What was striking about it was the amount of time they spent away from game-specific drills and set-piece moves but on honing reflexes and ball skills. You can see what Swinson is getting at: this is clearly a team aiming to out-think as well as out-muscle opponents.
“The game he [Townsend] wants to play is very fast and very skilful so it’s good to keep on with that skill work,” Swinson added.
Amazingly, Swinson puts as least some of their apparent ease in the conditions down to the Scottish weather – or more specifically the sudden hot spell that preceded their departure.
“Remarkably, it feels similar to Murrayfield a week and a half before we left,” he said. “When we trained there it was 28°C and felt like this. That’s not common in Scotland, I know, but we had a day like that in St Andrews as well – we’ve been acclimatising for this heat in Scotland. It is almost a miracle that that can happen. But it does.”
All of which means the big lock is pretty relaxed about the challenge of playing Italy in Singapore. “It doesn’t matter about the stadium – it is a pitch at the end of the day and, by the looks of it, it is a really good quality one. It should be a good fast-flowing game, which is what we want to play with Scotland,” he shrugged.
“I don’t think it favours either team. We have had these tours before and done well in hot places. It is tough for both sides but good fun.
“It will be good to play; go out on a good pitch and show what we can do.”
From his point of view that time has been spent on two key tasks. One is the result of the injury to Richie Gray which has broken up the partnership with his brother Jonny that has been the mainstay of the Scottish boilerhouse for the last couple of seasons.
With only three locks in the squad, Swinson is going to get a lot of game time and the perfect chance to show Townsend that Richie Gray is going to have to fight to win his place back in the autumn.
“I am focusing on performing,” he insisted. “I don’t think it matters whether Richie Gray was here or not, I’m sure I would still have had an opportunity to play. Maybe I’ll play a bit more, so that would be good.
“Being consistent is the key: do what I do well repeatedly over the full 80-minutes – that would be nice.”
The second is taking a crash course in forging a partnership with Ben Toolis, the Edinburgh lock. They are almost certainly going to have to play together at some stage – Jonny Gray can’t be asked to shoulder the burden of 80 minutes every game on tour after a season that has clearly left him exhausted.
“We trained with each other pre-Six Nations and a little bit the year before [in the pre-World Cup squad] and have played against each other twice this year and twice the year before. We know how the other plays and are both quite similar in many ways,” Swinson observed. “It will be good to play alongside him, we have been going well in training.
“We work well together, so it will be good to get in another session and then look forward to the game.”
As he observed, summer tours are traditionally the time to experiment, and everybody is doing it. Scotland have players missing with the Lions, Italy have decided to rest a few veterans, Australia have pick a squad based on youth.
So this is a chance not just for the likes of Swinson who are firmly established on the Test scene, but even more for the likes of Toolis, who has been overlooked since winning his only cap two years ago.