Scotland rugby coach Scott Johnson today admitted he is keeping a door open for the in-form player of Edinburgh’s campaign so far, Sean Cox, in the build-up to the next World Cup.
Second row Cox, 28, has been capped by his native England at under-18, under-19 and under-21 level and, were he to be interested in wearing the thistle, he is not yet eligible on residency grounds.
However, a three-year period only is required and back on May 27, 2011 Edinburgh announced plans to bring him on board.
That could mean Cox, if he maintains the form with which he outplayed former Lions captain Paul O’Connell when Edinburgh defeated Munster last week, could be in the running for a summer tour that will feature matches against Canada, Argentina and South Africa.
After naming a 41-strong squad, with five new caps including previously unheralded London Irish back-row pair Blair Cowan and Kieran Low, the coach was invited to consider the claims of Cox.
Johnston said: “My understanding is Sean Cox does not become fully available yet. We like a lot of things Sean brings. He is a good leader, he is a good skilful player and he is a good line-out man. Sean is on our radar, but not there yet.
“My message to him is ‘keep doing it, mate’. . . and we are interested.”
If Lancaster-born Cox, below, who initially came north on a one-year contract that was quickly extended, may be one for the future, Johnson was firmly focused on the three-match autumn series against Japan, South Africa and Australia at Murrayfield when explaining why Greig Tonks had been given the nod over the player currently keeping him out of the Edinburgh full-back berth, Jack Cuthbert.
Said Johnson: “There was quite a long debate over Tonks versus Cuthbert.
“I think Jack is playing pretty good and Tonksy’s form, to be fair, hasn’t been that good.
“We had a couple of nights’ sleep (over the selection) and worked on the logic that Tonksy’s form last year warranted him to go on our summer tour.
“He was Edinburgh’s player of the year, he is a left-footer and he gets first right of reply.
“After this there are no guarantees but one thing’s for sure – Jack is knocking on the door.”
If Tonks is considered to have gone off the boil, then Johnson is in no doubt that a player who struggled for form in 2012-13 is now firing on all cylinders.
“By his own admission, Dave Denton had a disappointing year last but he has had an exceptional start to this season,” he said. “If he had a lack of confidence at the start of the year it has now gone the other way. Dave has an abrasive side to him. He has also shown a skill set we know he has got but he is now more constant. It’s a good start, but once again there is no divine right to be there.”
If competition for places was Johnson’s inevitable theme, then one individual highly likely to start when Japan help bring up the curtain on Saturday, November 9, is centre Matt Scott. “I am a huge fan of Matty Scott who is a genetically gifted kid and a good lad. I like a lot of what he brings. I don’t have to sell Matt Scott to anyone,” said Johnson.
Coincidentally, Scott’s second cap came against Australia on tour last year and that coincided with the win that followed a Murrayfield victory over the Wallabies in 2009.
Claiming not to be aware of the possibility of a home “hat-trick” in the Hopetoun Cup fixture next month that Scott helped set up, Johnson preferred to dismiss suggestions in some quarters that the Aussies might be on the slide.
“If Australia get their stuff right they will put points on any team,” said Johnson, adding: “They have a new coach and in the doom and gloom people forget they play in a competition as hard as anything in the world (the Rugby Championship, formerly Tri-Nations).
“Add in the flights (between New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina) and it is not an easy tournament. Besides, they are up against this team in black who are an exceptional rugby team at the moment.
“I don’t think Australia’s form is as bad as everyone is telling you. When they come to us they will be well fed, watered and ready to play.”
As for opening opponents, Japan, they have to be treated with caution.
Johnson, aware of how Samoa put a spoke in the wheel last November, said: “We are slow starters and that’s something we have got to get out of.
“Japan are a good side, well coached, and they are trying to develop to 2019 when they host the World Cup. The match at Murrayfield against Scotland will be the start of Japan’s road and they are not the easy beats they used to be.”