EDINBURGH flanker Ross Rennie began to step up his claims on the Scotland No.7 jersey in Invercargill yesterday and, now back in Wellington surroundings that spark fond memories, he is itching to be given another shot.
The 25-year-old earned his tenth cap against Georgia but it was only his second start in the navy jersey, the first coming against Ireland – whom he also made his debut against in Dublin in 2008 – in the EMC Warm-ups last month. Injury deprived him of the chance to really compete with Barclay over the last three years, but he is back now and one of several players who has brought a new standard of competition to the Scottish squad.
Barclay, who turns 25 the day before Scotland face Argentina, is a shrewd character and he has never taken his eye off Rennie. The two are good friends having come through the ranks together and have great respect for each other. That keeps Rennie from answering firmly when asked if he feels he has nudged ahead of his rival after a pack display against Georgia that was superior to Saturday’s against Romania. “Personally, it was just brilliant getting my first start in a World Cup,” he said. “Obviously, it was a nervy kind of game but I was just very pleased to get the start and the win more importantly. It was a very ugly game and collectively in attack we weren’t the best, but in defence I did feel fairly comfortable. Throughout the team we knew what we were doing, we ran them around and they looked tired, and we were on top of them. The only reason they would have scored would have been from a mistake by us or ill-discipline, and I think that was the biggest thing to come out of it, the defence.
“Obviously, there is competition in the squad, but I honestly think that the boys are just very happy to get the two wins and now come here to Wellington and start afresh again. All I hope is that I get more game-time this tour. I really want the team to do as well as we can and go as far as we can and that comes down to everyone training well and helping each other to be as good as we can be.
“Me and John have been friends for a long time. And it’s not down to us [who plays]. It’s down to the coach now. John has played his game and I’ve played mine, and I think we both did some things OK and we both have things to improve on. But it’s not for us to comment now really. We’ll see what happens.”
Rennie, who has starred for Scotland in Wellington before in the World Sevens some six years ago, is a terrific lad, down-to-earth, with no airs or graces but, like Barclay, as competitive as they come. He was hugely impressive in the summer training, his speed raising eyebrows and his ability to keep going over a number of sprints and longer distance runs showing he has a real engine.
Barclay has had longer at the coal-face, having made his debut against New Zealand in the last World Cup and earning his 30th cap last weekend. Rennie’s ability to move swiftly and close down Georgians was a key part of Scotland’s performance in the 15-6 win on Wednesday. He acknowledged that the attacking side of Scotland’s game was not as impressive, the team relying on four penalties and a drop-goal from Dan Parks as attacking moves broke down regularly on errors or Georgian penalty concessions.
But he believes the ability is there to pull together the attacking style that produced four tries against Romania and the defensive solidity that left Georgia trailing for a step-up in the final two Pool B games. Rennie added: “If we can match our collective attacking game from times during the Romania game with the defensive effort against the Georgians then we’ll be in good shape, and that’s what we’ll be training to do this week.
“Everybody is pretty excited I think now to be here in Wellington. It was nice to get those first two games out of the way and now turn the focus and get ready for the big ones with Argentina and England. Down in Invercargill the people were lovely, but now we’re into the big city and there is a sense for us with the games coming that the World Cup is going to really begin now for us.
“Argentina are a great side. They are real scrappers and have really talented footballers, so it’s going to be a really tough game. A lot of the guys played there on summer tours, but unfortunately I wasn’t involved in either of them so I’d love to get a chance to play against them here. I wouldn’t say I’ve found my form as much as I would like yet, but I’m just happy getting some game-time. Now I just want to impress well in training and do as much homework as I can on my game and Argentina, to get another chance. That’s all you can really do, but there’s still a long way to go. But, hopefully, there will be more game-time for me.”