WASN’T it John McEnroe who observed that a sportsman only had to hang around long enough to become universally loved? Well, Jim Hamilton may just be the living proof. The big fella has morphed from angry, tattooed young man with a fuse shorter than a mosquito’s tweeter into a respected and avuncular figure in the Scotland squad.
OK, that may be over-stating the case, but listening to him talk Hamilton makes a lot of sense, someone with a bit of perspective after umpteen years in the Scotland squad going back to 2006. He has history and he has hinterland, there is little enough that he hasn’t seen and done and had done. He has won wooden spoons and he has handed out the odd bloody nose, metaphorically speaking of course, not least against tomorrow’s opposition whom he helped beat in 2010 and again in 2013.
“Yes, I played in that (2013) game and it was a good day for Scotland,” Hamilton says. “It was a strange game, I think they had 75 per cent possession and I think we stole 10 out of 14 of their lineouts, which is obviously a huge base for them.
“I heard Vern (Cotter) touch on it, Ireland are very structured in what they do. Ireland are a team that suit the way we play, they are route-one directed, they have a good lineout, we have a good lineout too, so it is well matched in those terms. Like I said, if we get everything right...”
A slim-looking Hamilton is struggling with a back injury but insists he will be right come kick-off. In the meantime he has to field a raft of questions on the state of the national team who have yet to get off the mark in this tournament. He reaches for the “f” word – frustrated – but Hamilton has seen a few Scotland squads in his years of international rugby and he rates this one despite the recent results.
“On paper, it doesn’t look like we’ve done too well as we haven’t won a game,” he admits, “but I think it is fair to say that we are definitely on the up. We have some fantastic players coming through. Jonny Gray was just 21 on Saturday. Adam Ashe, Hoggy (Stuart Hogg), Finn (Russell), Fraser Brown, the centres. We are now building an unbelievably good squad of players and playing some great stuff.
We are building an unbelievably good squad and playing some great stuffJim Hamilton
“Look at the England game – we go that many points down, so to be winning the half 13-10 just shows there is a maturity in the squad. We are scoring some really exciting tries, some of them have been fantastic, haven’t they?
“It is now just about tying everything together. Against Italy, we struggled in the maul. Against England, we dominated the lineout and dominated all the scrums bar the first.
“Tying everything together seems to be where we are at just now. It’s not that were not scoring tries. It’s not that we’re getting bullied up front, which we have had in the past. We’ve got all the tools now and we’ve got some unbelievable players coming through. That’s something that I haven’t seen in the past as much as I’m seeing now.
“Vern is the best coach I’ve worked with. Once we get everyone back fit and with the guys coming through in the future, we are definitely in a good place.”
Perhaps it is Hamilton’s turn to over-egg the pudding. Notwithstanding the raft of talent he mentions, this squad is still paper thin in key positions. A giant tighthead prop, a back-up stand-off, a big ball-carrying breakaway...or two, a full-back to shadow Stuart Hogg, there are plenty of positions on Cotter’s Christmas list. But Hamilton is right to say that this squad isn’t far away. The addition of some muscle up front and a little more defensive discipline in the backs would go a long way towards a making a winning squad, as would a little confidence.
After stints with Leicester and Saracens, Hamilton knows something about winning rugby and he puts it down to habit. Winning is a good habit, so good teams can play badly and still finish in front, while the reverse is equally true. Scotland are coming close to winning but no cigar although, with the possible exception of Italy, it’s difficult to point to a match in this series the Scots have deserved to win, rather than one they simply could have won, which is a very different thing.
“I genuinely think that for me going forward in life, having had the experience I have had playing for Scotland and not having everything going our way and having to brush ourselves off in adversity, something good will come of it,” Hamilton says, resolutely upbeat.
“If we beat Ireland at the weekend, am I going to be happy with the Championship? No, I want to win. I’m here to win games, I’m here to win Championships, I am here to be part of a successful team. Whether that is with me starting, on the bench or in the squad helping the young guys, I am determined to see it through.”
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