World Cup is our chance to inspire nation says Kellock

ALASTAIR Kellock will tomorrow set the Scotland squad a simple goal – to inspire a nation.

The Glasgow lock forward has worked harder than anyone to achieve success in Scottish rugby, which is clear in the grounded way he speaks about the game, and of what Scotland can achieve over the next six weeks or so.

He was handed his professional chance at Edinburgh but forced to move to Glasgow for game-time while Scott Murray controlled the lineout in the capital. He made his debut for Scotland in 2004, off the bench against Australia, but had to wait until 2006 to make his first start.

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And yet, despite playing a key role in a victory over France, he started only five more internationals before 2009, one of the more painful moments coming when he was left out of Scotland’s World Cup squad in 2007 as Murray, Scott MacLeod, Jim Hamilton and Nathan Hines were preferred.

The 30-year-old does not grumble. He was disappointed but remains willing to accept that he was not good enough at the time to be more involved. It only made him work harder to battle the critics inside and outside the Scotland camp, and that fight for recognition has unearthed a steel that Scotland coach Andy Robinson has seized upon.

When his first choice as captain, Chris Cusiter, was injured against Australia in November, 2009, Kellock took over and guided Scotland to a historic backs-to-the-wall victory against the Wallabies, and he was named Scotland’s 110th Test match captain on tour to Argentina, where he played his part in the first-ever Test series win there.

He battled back from a knee injury that robbed him of the first half of last season, was happy to captain Scotland A before taking over at the main helm again for the Six Nations, adding his first Test try, against France, for good measure. Cusiter is back fit and ready to resume at scrum-half, but still Robinson has stuck with Kellock, even with the lock under pressure for the starting slot.

Kellock’s trials perhaps explain why he attended a meeting with Robinson early on Sunday that will live long in the memory, with some trepidation, thinking less about the impending invitation to captain the World Cup squad and more about the possibility of being left out of it.

“I knew that Andy was speaking to players last week about not going and some boys who were going but who weren’t involved at the weekend, but as I was involved in the game with Italy he didn’t speak to me, I think, to let me focus on the game. So, I didn’t know until Sunday morning whether I was actually in the squad.

“He asked on Saturday night if we could meet on Sunday at 10am before he announced the squad to everyone, but he hadn’t let anything away and, while I hoped it might be about the captaincy, you never take anything for granted.

“The captaincy is not something you can go after and chase. To be named in the squad is a huge privilege and honour, and no-one can ever under-estimate that, and the captaincy is something on top.

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“It is something I very much enjoy and something I wanted to do, no doubt about it, but you look at the number of leaders in this group of players who, I’m sure, would have wanted it and enjoyed it as much. Mike Blair, Rory Lawson, Chris Cusiter and Chris Paterson have all captained Scotland in the past but, at the same time, that makes captaining the squad easier. They have been great and it shows how, with other strong characters, that we have strong leaders in every area now.”

That, says Kellock, is one of several reasons why he and his team-mates are heading for New Zealand with a belief that they can surprise the Pool B top seeds England and Argentina. But being a grounded sort, Kellock is more concerned with Romania, first-up, and then Georgia, both sides with strong packs he knows will provide a stiff challenge for the Scottish team.

“We can’t look beyond that, and we know we have a lot of work to do.”

Asked if felt more pressure to find improvement in the side as their skipper, he said: “I don’t actually feel any extra pressure being made captain. The pressure is there for everyone, but the best thing about this squad is the number of leaders we have and the fact that every single member of this squad takes responsibility for themselves, and that leadership, responsibility and the competition levels are what has brought a real strength to this squad. Players like that are easy to lead and captain.

“Yes, there will be added responsibilities for me, of course, but I like to think that the experience I have as captain with Glasgow and Scotland will allow me to take them in my stride.”

So, does he allow himself to think further ahead, to dream of what his first World Cup experience might bring?

“Of course you do,” he said, smiling. “I’ve said a lot that the focus for the players has been very much on training to get into the best condition you can, and playing well in the warm-up games, and that’s been true. I couldn’t see past the warm-up games, but now that the squad has been announced there is a real focus on that first game against Romania.

“We will meet later this week as a squad of 30 and talk through our aspirations and targets, and I honestly don’t know yet what will come out of that. We may set specific targets or may just talk about what we need to do to be at our best, because we have shown in the last few years that, when we are at our best, we are capable of winning big, big games.

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“But we know we can win games against anyone, so you have to believe that anything is possible. At the same time, you have to keep your feet on the ground. The main target at the moment is to ensure we are peaking for every game in the tournament. If we achieve that, the performances and wins will come.”

He added: “Every single one of us has an incredible opportunity to go to New Zealand and put in winning performances. Andy [Robinson] talks to us about inspiring the nation through winning performances, and that’s something that, as players, we find inspiring as well.

“If we go over there and perform well we know the excitement and buzz that that will create in Scotland. And I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are going to travel over there and come to our games, and, having been to New Zealand a couple of times, I know the depth of Scottish heritage there is in New Zealand.

“I hope that they embrace us and I’m sure they will, and that is where the responsibility comes for us as players. We are going there not only to win for ourselves, but for the nation and I, personally, cannot wait to get started.”