SCOTT Johnson will mark his final game in charge of the Scotland team by introducing his 16th player to the international ranks.
Johnson made it clear on taking over at the start of 2013 that a key target of his temporary period as head coach was to improve Scotland’s strength in depth and, in announcing that Dougie Fife will make his Test debut against Wales at the Millennium Stadium tomorrow, Johnson will complete his time at the helm having blooded 16 new internationalists and named a fresh-looking back division.
The Edinburgh winger replaces Tommy Seymour, who has failed to recover from a calf injury suffered in Saturday’s defeat to France. The other main injury doubt, Max Evans, was passed fit in a session yesterday morning before the squad flew south to Cardiff, and he takes over from Sean Lamont on the other wing, which means a return to the bench for Edinburgh’s versatile back Jack Cuthbert after a two-year absence.
Johnson stated: “We like Dougie’s size and his competitive edge. He chases everything, which I like, and he has shown really good glimpses playing for Edinburgh this season. He’s been earmarked by us for a while – we’ve been following him for the last 12 months – and he’s got his reward now. If he gets this one right, you might find that he puts a bit of pressure on [experienced wingers] going forward, which is really good.
“I don’t really think Saturday will faze Dougie. He’s one of those players where it doesn’t seem to matter who he marks, he just goes out and plays the same.”
As debuts go, there could be few more intimidating than taking one’s first steps against a back line featuring five British and Irish Lions in a full to capacity Millennium Stadium. The game was booked out long ago by Welsh fans hopeful of witnessing another Grand Slam.
That optimism died after an inconsistent showing by Wales this spring and for Fife the game can’t come soon enough.
“I’m absolutely delighted and can’t wait,” he said before heading to Edinburgh Airport with the squad. “The Millennium Stadium with the roof closed. . . I don’t think it could be much better, to be honest.
When I got a run of games with Edinburgh and started doing fairly well I felt I could be on the brink [of a Scotland call] if I stuck in. Luckily, I’ve been patient and my time has come.”
He has indeed been patient, having stood out as a talented teenager at Boroughmuir and then Currie and had to wait behind Chris Paterson, Tim Visser, Lee Jones, Tom Brown and Jack Cuthbert for opportunities since joining Edinburgh’s academy five years ago. His selection is also a major boost to state-school rugby in Edinburgh, which has lacked an abundance of international role models. Fife was educated at Firrhill High School.
The 6ft 1in Fife made an impact at age-grade level, scoring on his under-19s debut five years ago in a 55-13 win over Italy. He started every game for the under-20s in the 2010 Six Nations, and was impressive in his Scotland ‘A’ debut last year, which resulted in a first win over England Saxons south of the border. That proved to be a springboard for Fife as he became a regular in the Edinburgh team through the improvement at the end of last season, and it has continued this season to the extent that new coach Alan Solomons has also played him at centre.
Now nearly two stones bigger and stronger than the teenager he was, Fife grasped the opportunity to become Edinburgh’s main try threat in Tim Visser’s injury-enforced absence with five tries in seven games over the winter.
SCOTLAND TEAM v Wales
Hogg, Fife, Dunbar, Scott, Evans, Weir, Laidlaw; Grant, Lawson, Cross, R Gray, Hamilton, Wilson, Brown (Capt), Denton. Subs: Ford, Dickinson, Murray, Swinson, Strokosch, Cusiter, Taylor, J Cuthbert.
WALES TEAM v Scotland
L Williams, A Cuthbert, Davies, Roberts, North, Biggar, Phillips; Jenkins, Owens, Rh Jones, Charteris, AW Jones, Lydiate, Warburton (Capt), Faletau. Subs: Hibbard, James, A Jones, Ball, Tipuric, R Williams, Priestland, Hook.