The Scotland players selected for tomorrow’s Test against the United States are keen to seize the first chance to impress new coach Vern Cotter, according to captain Greig Laidlaw.
Cotter’s first 23-man selection since taking the reins is a mix of experience and planning for the future, including three new starters – Finn Russell, Gordon Reid and Blair Cowan – and two other possible debutants from the bench in Alex Allan and Grayson Hart.
And Laidlaw says everyone is eager to catch the New Zealander’s eye ahead of the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
“It is good to be back together with the squad and good to finally have Vern (Cotter) here with his input,” the 28-year-old said. “The boys are looking forward to the game and looking forward to trying to impress Vern. We have struggled with the heat. It was a bit of a shock, but we have adapted, as you do. It has been a good week, it has been positive.”
Laidlaw, like the bulk of the squad, will have two stabs at trying to make his mark – against the USA, and then Canada next weekend – before heading back to the United Kingdom, where he will be moving clubs from Edinburgh to Gloucester.
A fresh squad is then being flown out for the second set of Tests – against Argentina and South Africa – with only a handful of players overlapping.
Cotter has not tinkered too much so far with the Scotland team systems since taking over, Laidlaw revealed.
“Not much different to start with,” he said of the new regime. “He is his own man, but he won’t come in and make wholesale changes at the start. It will take Vern a bit of time to put his stamp on the team.
“It has been a good week and the players have taken a liking to him. He is quiet, but when he talks rugby everybody listens. You don’t want to muck about when he is here, and rightly so.”
Nobody seems entirely sure what to make of the USA team the Scots will face at BBVA Compass Stadium, kick-off 1.30pm UK time – home of the Houston Dynamo Major League Soccer franchise.
The hosts’ line-up will include some big names from European rugby, including Saracens pair Chris Wyles – second leading try scorer in the Heineken Cup – and giant lock Hayden Smith.
Scotland will have an inside line on both, though, with Kelly Brown – who misses today’s match due to a minor foot injury sustained in last weekend’s extra-time Aviva Premiership final defeat – and his Sarries colleague Duncan Taylor able to give them a steer on what to expect.
Half of the American side are based in the country, however, and will be unknown quantities to the Scots. And, although they may lack experience against fully professional players, Laidlaw will not be taking them lightly. “They are aggressive, they are keen, they fly into rucks and mauls,” he said.
“The conditions are the conditions, we can’t do anything about that. We need to worry about the game and beating them.”
United States team: C Wyles (Sarace,s); B Scully (Leicester), S Kelly (University of California), A Suniula (Wasps), L Hume (Narbonne); S Suniula (Seattle), M Petri (New York AC); O Kilifi (Seattle), P Thiel (Life Rugby), E Fry (London Scottish), L Stanfill (Seattle), H Smith (Saracens), T Clever (C)(NTT Shining Arcs), S LaValla (Stade Francais), C Dolan (Northampton).
Replacements: T Coolican (Richmond), N Wallace (James Bay), T Lamositele (Saracens), T Tuisamoa (Old Mission Beach), D Barrett (USA Sevens), F Niua (Glasgow Warriors), C London (Glendale Raptors), T Maupin (USA Sevens).
Scotland team: S Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); S Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), S Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), D Taylor (Saracens), T Visser (Edinburgh); F Russell (Glasgow Warriors), G Laidlaw (C) (Edinburgh); G Reid (Glasgow Warriors), S Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), G Cross (Glasgow Warriors), R Gray (Castres), J Hamilton (Montpellier), A Strokosch (Perpignan), B Cowan (London Irish), J Beattie (Montpellier).
Replacements: P MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), A Allan (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow Warriors), G Gilchrist (Edinburgh), K Low (London Irish), G Hart (Edinburgh), R Jackson (Glasgow Warriors), M Evans (Castres).