Some statistics are revealing while others are more concealing, but the fact that the USA Eagles have managed no more than two tries against Scotland over the course of four official international matches is neither: it is simply damning.
Not scoring tries used to be a peculiarly Scottish trait if you look back just a few years when the coaches couldn’t unearth an international class stand-off and they couldn’t steal an outside centre worth the name. Remember all those statistics when Scotland’s forwards bossed possession and territory but points would come from the boot of Chris Paterson or Dan Parks... or not at all.
Happily Scotland now score for fun, five tries against Japan surpassed the four the squad managed throughout the duration of RWC’11 in New Zealand. We have morphed from a team who read the manual on scoring upside down to a side that has more threatening characters than a Hammer Horror film.
In the last three years Scotland have been scoring tries at a rate of just under two per Test. In the three years prior to that the team was scoring at a rate just below one. The Scots have doubled their strike rate, which is one of the reasons that Tim Visser, pictured with the World Cup, finds himself in the “B” team this afternoon against the Eagles, not that he sees it that way.
“That’s how it always works with Vern,” he explains. “If you play well, you keep playing. That’s how it works in general with coaches at this top level. In the back three, we’ve got four very good wingers, so there’s always going to be one or two missing out.
“I sat out the first game, I now get the chance to prove myself, and I don’t necessarily see that as a first or second string. But then I probably wouldn’t, because I wasn’t involved in the first one! I’m just looking forward to getting out on the pitch and taking my chance and we’ll see what happens next week.”
Visser ripped up the record books when he signed for Edinburgh back in 2009. Over the next four seasons he topped the try-scoring table in the Pro 12 each and every time. The high water mark came in the 2010-11 season with 14 league tries in 21 appearances. Over the course of six seasons with the capital club the big Dutchman has scored 58 tries in 99 league appearances; only recently has the well run a little dry.
Two seasons ago he managed just four, in an injury-ravaged campaign, and last season he scored six in 18 appearances, which probably says more about Alan Solomons’ tactics than anything else. Visser joined Harlequins in the summer where he expects to see more of the ball.
This afternoon he has the chance to remind the Edinburgh fans what they will be missing and to underline his credentials as a threat to Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland as much as the American opposition.
“Getting my first start is brilliant,” he says. “USA are a great country to play against and I’m really looking forward to it. They’re probably less organised than Japan but they’re probably more explosive runners. They’ve got a few boys from the Sevens programme who are really good, and a few islanders who are very powerful. Japan were surprisingly organised and I think America will be less so, but they’re more dangerous in their one-up runners.
“We’ve spoken about the mismatches. They obviously want to try to find space, especially for their quick wingers, so we’ll try to do what we did against Japan and shut that off and not give them the opportunity they’re looking for.”
The “quick wingers” are Blaine Scully on one wing, once of Leicester and now with the Cardiff Blues, while Visser has to keep a lid on Takudzwa Nwgenya, who you may know better as the man who smoked Bryan Habana at RWC’07. Eight years on the YouTube clip remains a firm favourite as Nwgenya stands up the Springbok legend before rounding him with surprising ease.
“He’s pretty quick,” says Visser with grudging admiration. “I’ve never played against him. From what I’ve seen, I probably won’t give him the outside because he’ll take that. He’s obviously used to open rugby, so we’ll try to close them off so they don’t get those open spaces.”
“The opportunity is obviously there for the bonus point,” he moves on to Scotland’s goals. “It just depends what we do with it. We’re not going into the game looking at that, we’re going in trying to win first of all. America are a good team, there are no easy games at the World Cup, especially in our pool. The first thing we want to do is go out there and try to win the game. If we do manage to score tries, we will be looking to score as many points as we can.”
And has the proliferation of other notable scorers taken some of the heat off him, even if it means he doesn’t always get the selectors’ nod?
“When I first came in that was a real focus, that was all I was answering in the press. But there are some real genuine try scorers, with both Tommy Seymour and Sean Maitland as well. Mark Bennett has started to figure out how to score tries as well, he’s doing it constantly which is great to see. There are threats all over the place and that’s only going to make us better.”
If Visser is going to recapture his best try-scoring form, this afternoon would be a good time and Leeds a good place to do it.