Matt SCOTT will tonight complete the final leg of a journey that has taken him around the leading European rugby nations in a ground-breaking year when he lines up for Edinburgh against Racing Metro in a crucial Heineken European Cup clash at Murrayfield.
The 21-year-old centre, who combines rugby with studying for a law degree, has enjoyed spectacular successes since turning professional with Edinburgh during the summer, including posting tries against each of Ireland’s “big two” – Munster and Leinster.
For the past five matches he has made himself an ever-present starter and now looks forward to augmenting his rugby education.
“This will be the first time I have played against French opposition at anything other than age-group international level,” said Scott. “It’s remarkable to compare where I am today with, say, a year ago. Playing for Currie did, however, allow me to experience cross-border rivalries through the British and Irish Cup as I faced Cornish Pirates and Worcester from England, Newport (Wales) and a Leinster XV.
“I’ve played Italian sides Aironi and Treviso but a French club, especially one of the stature of Racing Metro, will be different and a challenge I’m really looking forward to.”
A measure of the task confronting Edinburgh against the Parisian aristocrats is contained in a fascinating snippet from the blog of former Edinburgh Academy rugby captain Fraser Gillies while spending the 2010-11 season with Metro.
Referring to Argentinian stand-off star Juan-Martin Hernandez, whom he would train alongside, Gillies, now back on home shores, blogged: “Juan is the only person I’ve seen do sit-ups with the air of a rock star. Extraordinary.”
Ask Scott to assess the threat from Racing and, coincidentally, it is the name “Hernandez” that rolls off the tongue first.
“Metro have strength throughout their squad with big ball carriers in the forwards and a good kicking game through Hernandez,” he says.
Of course, the threat goes much further and when insisting Edinburgh need to take a pro-active approach, Scott points out that his team have come too far with their away win at London Irish last week to take a backward step.
“At the final whistle there was a great sense of achievement. A lot of work had been put in throughout the build-up and to get a win out of it was a great feeling, especially as not many people were predicting our success.
“Things have happened so fast for me I have not had a chance to sit down and take stock, other than to have a few conversations with Harry Leonard.”
Leonard is the 19-year-old stand-off whose three starts have seen him set up a superb try for Scott against Euro champions Leinster, gain man-of-the-match honours in Treviso and spearhead Edinburgh’s first-ever away win to start a Heineken campaign at London Irish.
“Harry told me that this time last year he was playing in a ten-a-side tournament for Boroughmuir thirds and a lot of second team games.
“What our experiences show is that you can be accelerated quickly into the big arena, which must send out a fantastic signal to other up-and-coming players.”
Ironically, for Leonard to make his mark, Scott has had to shuffle across from stand off to centre – a switch he has achieved seamlessly.
“I’m learning a new position with a new set of skills while getting a regular run, but if was asked to step back to stand-off I feel I’d be able to do that,” says Scott.
The understanding being developed between Scott and Leonard, which could be a key factor tonight against opponents required to take a do-or-die approach having lost their opening pool game at home to Cardiff, was perhaps best summed up by the try they engineered against Leinster. Scott recalled: “The referee was playing advantage in our favour and I saw their full-back was out of position.
“I called for Harry to put a chip in behind the defence and fortunately I managed to scoop the ball up to score.
“Sometimes these opportunities present themselves and although I got on the end of things without Harry’s confidence in executing that type of kick I wouldn’t have scored.”
Fresh from achieving a win in his first entry to the Heineken Cup, Edinburgh’s Michael Bradley will be faced with an old foe from his playing days, perhaps giving him some insight into what will make Racing tick.
Calling the shots for Racing will be Pierre Berbizier and when the pair were scrum half’s they went head to head three times at Test level. When he played he was a very influential player who controlled everything around him, a marvellous player,” says Bradley in making clear opposition standards will be set high.
Nor does the coach expect anything other than a backlash from Racing’s opening-day defeat.
“Cardiff are a strong side who did a number on us. It is not a surprise that teams in this group will get the upper hand away from home. Cardiff and Edinburgh are in a good position but our task is to put ourselves in a very strong position.”
While Racing, who have won two from seven in European Cup ventures, are among the continent’s rich elite, Edinburgh are a more homespun outfit. However, flanker Roddy Grant, who came off the bench to help end an eight-match losing streak on the road at Euro level, points out this can have advantages.
“It’s great having that band-of-brothers thing at Edinburgh. And we know that if we lose last week’s win won’t count for as much. That will be a spur. Mentally you know what you are in for if you’ve done your homework and we are all good to go.”
That homework extends to pinpointing key threats, as seen by Grant, although since he spoke, Metro’s Springbok No 8, Jacques Cronje, has been banned for 20 days for stamping in a domestic league match.
“Hernandez was really sharp last week and they have quality right across the pitch,” added Grant.