Vern Cotter rings changes for Scotland v USA

Vern Cotter has picked 'a mixture of old warriors and young guys'. Picture: SNS/SRU
Vern Cotter has picked 'a mixture of old warriors and young guys'. Picture: SNS/SRU
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THEY say that you only have about 12 seconds to make your first impression upon meeting someone for the very first time.

Perhaps he should consider himself fortunate, because Scotland’s brand new coach Vern Cotter has the luxury of a full 80 minutes of Test match rugby before some people will start judging his ability to make the step up from club to country.

His first Test squad plays the USA Eagles in Houston tomorrow evening and the Kiwi coach has blended a mixture of young blood and grey beards in what, by necessity, is a somewhat experimental line-up.

Three new caps start the Test. Gordon Reid and Blair Cowan are found in the front and back rows of the scrum respectively but much of the focus will be on the team’s 21-year-old stand-off Finn Russell, fresh from taking Glasgow to the brink of glory in the RaboDirect final last weekend. Scotland have been looking for an international class No 10 for over a decade now and Russell, for all his inexperience, looks like the real deal.

The new faces are complimented by some oldish stagers. Stuart Hogg gets a chance to stretch his legs at full-back after falling foul of Gregor Townsend at the tail-end of the season and spending Glasgow’s two play-off matches confined to a watching brief. Tim Visser adds some threat on the flank, making his first Test appearance since breaking his leg last October against Treviso. Up front, several no-nonsense types such as Alasdair Strokosch, Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton have been brought in to do the heavy lifting.

“You guys have looked at the profile of the team and you know the players,” said Cotter to the assembled journalists. “You know it’s a mixture of old warriors with some experience and young guys that are getting opportunities, so it’s just making sure that we keep things simple and that everyone brings quality.

“The main focus is just team cohesion, just trying to get cohesion. Just getting so we know what we are trying to achieve in attack and trying to achieve in defence and within that players will express their qualities.

“They have qualities, intrinsic qualities as rugby players and as people and we want to try and get the most out of it. We are playing a very good team that we don’t want to underestimate.

“The outlook could change, it could change. There are opportunities. We always talk about life, we talk about rugby, it’s the same thing, there are opportunities.

“Finn Russell, I think he deserves an opportunity and he gets his opportunity so that’s what we can offer him and we’ll see what he brings to the team.”

Reid’s cap is reward for a breakthrough season at Glasgow and the fact that Ryan Grant is having surgery this summer on his problematic shoulder.

Reid struggled a little in the RaboDirect final against the experienced Mike Ross but he needs to put in a shift against the Eagles on Saturday because Alex Allan, his back-up on the substitutes’ bench, enjoyed just two appearances off the bench for Edinburgh, totalling 12 minutes of professional rugby all season.

“We hope we don’t get unfortunate injuries but, if it happens, then he [Allan] is going to have to step up. That’s what we are counting on him doing.” If Cotter is the touchy-feely, arm-round-the-shoulder type of coach he is doing a pretty good job of disguising the fact.

Cowan is picked for his pace with the ground expected to be firm, while the heat and the overbearing humidity are expected to take their toll on the players. Scrum-half Grayson Hart is also in line to win his first cap off the bench and alongside him London Irish breakaway Keiran Low could add to his solitary Test appearance.

Away from the new faces, Cotter seems to have adopted the mantra that muscle is good and defence wins matches.

He has gone for size over skill, especially in the centre combination of Duncan Taylor and Sean Lamont, who are about as inviting as a brick wall.

“We have injuries as well,” Cotter reminded everyone. “There are a couple of guys who can’t be with us where we’ve been hit the hardest, injuries to Matt Scott and Alex Dunbar, so we’ll adapt like I say.

“It’s a big team but I consider it big but reasonably mobile. I think Richie Gray is a mobile rugby player, I think Jim Hamilton gets around the track, we’ve got a loose forward trio which I think are complementary. We can compete at ruck time. We can cover spaces out wide. I think they can play, they can carry as well.”

As for the opposition, Cotter is expecting the Eagles to be fiercely competitive in what is one of their favourite haunts after a weakened Ireland team scraped home by the less-than- impressive score of 15-12 last summer.

He explained: “They are developing their rugby, they’ve got core players who are professional who practise the same arts as our players in domestic competition and I know that they see Scotland as an opportunity to get a good result.

“They pushed Ireland close here last year. They pushed the Maori All Blacks very close last year. They enjoy playing in Houston, for them it’s their favourite ground. So there are a lot of things, a lot of challenges in front of us.”

The first of them arrives tomorrow evening.