Going toe-to-toe with grizzly Springbok forwards is not the way many would envisage spending a 31st birthday but Jim Hamilton makes no secret of the fact he relishes the opportunity.
The 6ft 8in and 19st 9lb second row is recalled for a 49th Scotland rugby cap at Murrayfield on Sunday and knows his physicality will be a key asset while hoping for a kinder break than when he took on these same opponents in their own backyard during the summer.
Then, Hamilton was sin-binned and during his absence the Boks claimed ten points to leapfrog the tourists; the outcome might have been unaffected for all we know but the referee’s subsequent – and honourable – apology for getting it wrong added to frustrations and a sense of what might have been.
So, Scotland can take motivation from the chance to right a perceived wrong and Hamilton knows the significance of his presence.
“There will obviously be bit of side chat around . . .
“Whoever plays they are a formidable team with formidable forwards. I am looking forward to playing against a very good team,” he says drawing back from re-living what was possibly a seminal moment in Scottish rugby history if a first victory away to the Springboks had been secured instead of an eventual 17-30 defeat.
However, such diplomacy from the man who became Scotland’s 1000th internationalist when he came off the bench for a debut in 2006, shouldn’t be confused with willingness to get sleeves rolled up and give as good as he gets.
This comes through when Hamilton discusses his extra responsibility for calling the line-out moves.
“I’ve called line-outs for Scotland as long as I have been in the team. It’s a job I am used to although people are quite surprised about it because normally the more physical of the two second rows stands at the front of the line-out and goes around being physical,” he says.
If that is a clear euphemism for taking no nonsense it has to be done with a certain style.
“I do quite enjoy it because sometimes, when it gets a bit heated in games, having to call the line-outs, having such a big responsibility, has to bring you into a level of control to do that.”
Hamilton, a man of many clubs whose career path has led him from Leicester via Edinburgh and Gloucester to Montpellier, missed out on the Springbok scalp in 2010.
Gallingly, he appeared in the first and third legs of the Autumn series and knows that not many more opportunities will come around.
“I am not going to go on forever and having young lads come through means you leave the team in a few years in a good place. You get up in the morning and you feel a bit stiff and you realise you have these young lads on your heels. It makes you want to get better. You want to keep that jersey. You don’t want to give it up and rightly so.
“There is pressure on me and Richie (Gray) at weekend. That’s the way it should be in any good international team
“Competition is as strong as it has ever been with Scotland in my experience and, as a squad, we have been made well aware of that. That’s only right going forward to the (2015) World Cup. We have a long-term plan.”
So far as competition is concerned Tim Swinson was named ‘man of the match’ by television broadcasters in last weekend’s victory over Japan although he makes way for the more experienced Hamilton while teenager Jonny Gray is on the bench less than a year after making his pro debut.
“It is right for me to say Jonny Gray and Tim Swinson have been fantastic and I have watched their progress for a couple of years,” says Hamilton whose sojourn in France has seen him help Montpellier to the top of the table.
“So far so good” is the summing up of a player who hopes to add further lustre to a season spoiled only by a ligament strain. “I came back early from the Scotland tour because my wife had a baby girl and then I was off to Montpellier. The season starts fairly early there so I had four pre-season games then, four games into the season, I tore my medial and was out for five weeks.”
Hamilton indicates he is none the worse for that knock which is great news according to a colleague who knows him better than most. Recalled prop Ally Dickinson played with Hamilton at Gloucester and says: “I thought I’d got away from lifting someone as big as Jim Hamilton at the line-out! Seriously, Jim has got a bit of spring in him for such a big man. Jim’s a big, physical man who works hard all round the pitch.”
Nobody has had to work harder for an opportunity than Dickinson in earning his first start in a Murrayfield Test since the beginning of the 2010 Six Nations Championship. And the former Heriot’s prop is in no doubt that returning to Edinburgh this season has made the difference. “For the last two seasons I have been plagued by injuries but getting a run of games with Edinburgh has really helped.”
Dickinson started the first eight games until the Scotland squad were rested for the latest domestic fixture.
“When you play week in, week out you get a bit of consistency. It plays a massive role. At times in the depth of rehab your mind starts to wander and you wonder if your time is up,” says the man who replaced head-knock victim Ryan Grant early on in the win over Japan and has earned the nod over the recovered British and Irish Lion this time.
As his try against Japan showed, Dickinson is the epitome of a mobile forward and if Scotland are to record a third home victory over South Africa in 11 years, then a combination of that and the no-nonsense approach of Hamilton in an Edinburgh past and present combination is going to be vital.
Scotland will have noted how South Africa were turned over at the ruck eight times albeit when beating Wales last weekend and being first to the breakdowns through the introduction of John Barclay can help pile further pressure of the sort that saw the Springboks concede 15 penalties in Cardiff.
Certainly, there will be a belief that they can be beaten unlike when the All Blacks call, although question marks must be raised given the scale of the changes. Also, in the wider scheme of things, some critics are now sceptical about the lack of involvement from coach-in-waiting Vern Cotter who is still under contract to Clermont Auvergne but, it is claimed, has no input meantime.