PAT MacArthur will finally reach the promised land of an international rugby cap when he turns out for Scotland against Samoa in a quadrangular tournament hosted by South Africa in Durban on Saturday.
For MacArthur, the 26-year-old Glasgow hooker, it will be a moment he never dared to dream of after hopes were dashed in the most dramatic – some would say cruel – circumstances during the recent Six Nations Championship.
Called up to the bench for the first time, MacArthur found himself on the touchline for the closing moments of a 34-10 win over Italy and it seemed a matter of when, not if, coach Scott Johnson would send him on alongside Duncan Weir who was to prove the other unused substitute.
In fact, the call never came forcing Johnson to defend the decision although by the time the coach came to announce his tour squad it was clear he hoped that having to wait a bit longer would sharpen MacArthur’s appetite.
“It would have been an easy decision for me to have thrown him out there for 30 seconds of a Test match, but I felt that was wrong,” Johnson told the Evening News in answer to a question about whether there was a particular satisfaction about telling MacArthur he would tour.
Johnson recalled: “I felt that was giving away a jersey, giving away a cap wouldn’t have been right. One thing I have always said is I want kids to earn their caps. To run him (MacArthur) for 30 seconds because somebody was injured would have been a different set of circumstances, but that wasn’t the case.”
It is believed some doubts existed about Ross Ford’s ability to complete the match through a niggling injury and although he went on to become a Six Nations ever present, the Edinburgh stalwart was forced to pull out of the tour squad.
That has given MacArthur the opportunity many in the game craved not out of disrespect to Ford, but so that he would not be haunted for the rest of his career.
For Johnson it was always a case of hard-nosed professionalism. “Fact is I want him competitive.
“For Pat to be in the squad, I want him to mean business and he is there to compete.
“We’ve drawn a line in the sand and he has to compete for the spot.
“There is no doubt he is a good footy player, but we don’t want to be giving freebies away,” he said.
Ford’s injury has also opened up the possibility of a debut for 29-year-old Edinburgh hooker Steve Lawrie who is named on the bench.
Lawrie’s opportunity arises at the end of a season where he only returned after nearly a year out and it would be a fairytale promotion.
Other uncapped players starting are Edinburgh full back Greig Tonks and Glasgow centre Alex Dunbar while Saracens threequarter Duncan Taylor and Peter Horne (Glasgow) are among those new to the top flight on stand-by.
Tom Heathcote, at stand-off, gets the chance to stake claim to a regular run, while Grant Gilchrist can build on his second row outing against France in Paris.
Sean Lamont will become Scotland’s joint fifth most capped player on his 77th appearance equalling Nathan Hines and Jason White.