Mark Bennett has vowed to make full use of the attacking talents of winger Tim Visser when Scotland launch their RBS Six Nations Championship campaign against France in Paris tomorrow.
Although there were 11 Edinburgh players in the extended Scotland squad, the final cut has seen only Dutchman Visser and front row pair Alasdair Dickinson and Ross Ford claim starting places.
Dougie Fife and the uncapped Sam Hidalgo-Clyne are on the bench and there could well have been a place for Matt Scott had he not picked up a shoulder knock which should have healed by the time Wales arrive at BT Murrayfield next weekend.
“Guid gear comes in sma’ bundles” is a phrase that Scotland’s Kiwi coach, Vern Cotter, may take some time to get his tongue around but Bennett, from Burns Country in Ayrshire, knows that the Edinburgh contingent may be limited but nonetheless influential – with a key strike role for Visser. “I’ve never actually played with Tim but we all know he is a great finisher with a cutting edge to get over the line. We’ve got to use him,” says the centre.
“Tim’s really difficult to defend against as I’ve found out a few times with Glasgow. He’s exceptionally quick as well as being a big guy.”
Although he has appeared in only three of Scotland’s previous 17 games –partly due to injuries – Visser’s inclusion was virtually guaranteed from the moment Sean Maitland dropped out injured a couple of weeks ago, and he’ll return to the Six Nations arena keen to carry on where he left off, which was with one of seven Test tries a few minutes from full time when the 2013 competition ended at Stade de France.
The match which enhanced Visser’s claims for a recall more than any other was Edinburgh’s 1872 Cup win over Glasgow at new year when he scored two tries.
Bennett sat out that encounter with a hamstring injury sustained on his second Test appearance against New Zealand in the autumn but he still knows what effect Visser can have. “I’m sure Tim ran over me twice the first time I played against him,” he recalls.
Bennett knows, too, exactly the type of possession that will work best for all the back-line. Recalling how Scotland conceded just one line-out in the three autumn Tests, he says: “As a back-line we can bank on that type of possession and we know we need to do our part to do it justice. Quick ball off the top of the line-out is best because the opposition defence has to stand 10 metres back compared with five metres at scrums. We can really go for it.”
In Bennett the Scots have a player perhaps best placed to interpret any signs of concern or even panic in the French ranks, having spent his formative years at Clermont Auvergne playing for the Espoirs (under-23) team.
“I can get by with my French so hopefully I can pick up one or two of their calls but the downside is that it will be me ordering room service,” he says.
French opposite number Wesley Fofana used to be a colleague and Bennett notes: “I trained with Fofana every day and played with him a few times in pre-season matches. If you go high on him he will fend you off as he’s really strong up top at the same time as having real pace and an ability to beat a man. We need to really be aware of that.
“(Matthieu) Bastareaud alongside him tomorrow is a big, strong guy who runs hard but is deceptively quick as well and has good feet. I like to think I am a bit faster and one-on-one like to think I could go round him because I am not going to go through him!”
It is possible to hear Bennett’s sense of anticipation building and he confirms: “I am hugely excited, not least because four years ago I played my first game for Scotland Under-20s in France and it was a great experience. The crowd were wild, with drums and even a band playing throughout. Everybody was chanting away when you were kicking for goal as well.
“This is the next step up from that.
“Also, I’m still relatively new having got a taste of internationals in the autumn. To make my debut at Murrayfield was unbelievable, especially after coming as a kid to watch all the games. To be out there is something else, although in that first Argentinian game I was not very involved. There was not much ball coming to the backs and they didn’t attack us in midfield. Then, next time out, I’m off injured after nine or so minutes. I’m much better prepared now.”
Time at Clermont also taught Bennett, who turned 22 three days ago, a lot about the Gallic psyche and makes him able to appreciate that the first outing by a high-profile national team since the terrorist atrocities in Paris will have some effect on the locals.
“It is going to be emotional ... the French are going to be fired up from everything that has been going on. France are going to use this as a way to bring the country together. As much as that is great thing for them, we are going to have to stop that.
“I know, too, that the French love their rugby so if we play good rugby and really take them on they will get on to their side as well.”
What Scotland have to be wary of is dropping their tempo if they come through the opening stages intact, for as coach Vern Cotter has said, this match is liable to be a test of concentration as well as ability.
Additionally, he has noted that France have picked some heavyweights on the bench with the task of trying to apply the knock-out blow to a Scottish side who must avoid letting themselves be dragged around the pitch.