MAX EVANS has set himself the target of a try double when Scotland tackle Wales in Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium on Sunday.
The 28-year-old is the man with the Midas touch so far as Scottish try-scoring is concerned, having notched two of the last three – on both occasions after coming off the bench as a replacement in 2009 and the following year. “I’ve two tries from three appearances against Wales so I’ll try and get two and level out at four from four,” said Evans, who is quick to identify with the general chorus from within the team that Scotland are not far away from clicking.
“As a winger, you feel you are in the team to score tries and I’ve been telling Lee Jones, a very competent winger doing well for Edinburgh, that on a big stage like the Millennium Stadium you have got to get into the game early. We both did that against England when opportunities were being created which on another day would go our way.
“The main thing is work rate. We’ve really got to work harder than Wales who are obviously a very tight squad. But if we work harder and put them under pressure then chances will come.
“They’ll want the home support to find their voices but silencing the crowd is a good way of looking at it. We go in with the same amount of practice and similar moves and so far as getting an understanding of the pace (new stand off) Greig Laidlaw brings he has been able to come in with a real buzz.”
For the first time in 11 matches, coach Andy Robinson has opted to stick with the same three-quarter line and Evans feels an understanding is being developed.
“I’ve played alongside (centre) Nick De Luca for a while now and understand the way he likes to play while (full back) Rory Lamont’s style is also becoming more familiar.
“There are some big boys in the Welsh three-quarter line but it is the same with my club rugby in Castres and always the message is that, when it comes to size, tackle low.”
Echoing that theme, De Luca says: “Wales have some big units. I enjoyed watching them at the weekend against Ireland when George North was running through boys. But nothing changes for myself and the back line and defensively we have been quite good.”
With only two changes, both enforced, De Luca is glad of an opportunity to help right the wrongs which occurred against England but qualifies those remarks, saying: “We aren’t pleased that we had already been given a chance and hadn’t delivered. I’ll only pleased if we get a win.
“Throughout the whole game against England we created chances but the finishing was unacceptable.
“Looking at those stats in our favour they count for nothing if we can’t cross the whitewash.
“It will be a different story this weekend if we finish our chances. Unfortunately, it is the same old story so we are talking about a win and nothing else.
“Greig is very different to Dan Parks so it will be a different type of game. But Greig will step up in his usual unflappable manner so things will change although we have to execute our moves better.”
For Laidlaw the search for inspiration has taken him across the channel where the practice of switching between scrum half, where he gained his first two caps, and stand off, where he was introduced against England, is more common.
“I think the same player being able to occupy both half-back positions will be seen more and more.
“If I move into coaching when my career is over – I definitely fancy it but touch wood not for a good few years yet – I will have an impression of how much help a good pass gives you. For me versatility can only be a good thing. I’ve looked at how some French players adapt to both positions studying Freddie Michalak, (Jean-Baptiste) Elissalde and Morgan Parra who played stand off and scrum half in a World Cup semi and final this season.”
While Laidlaw has been leaving no stone unturned to perfect his approach he knows some basics never change.
“It will be a new experience partnering Chris Cusiter. But Cus has a great pass on him and I hoping that will allow me to get nice and wide and into open space so as to hopefully stretch the Welsh defence.”
Although starting for the first time in a Scottish jersey Laidlaw is no stranger to Wales.
“I first travelled as a teenager with the Jed Thistle youth team to play New Tredegar ten years ago that was an adventure that sowed the seeds of me wanting to do what I’m doing now.”
Another who has made the journey in earlier days is No. 8 Dave Denton, who recalls: “I’ve played a Cardiff Arms Park for the Scottish under-20s during a trip when we were given a tour of the Millennium Stadium.” Having done the grand tour now what price a lap of honour?
Meanwhile, Denton may have celebrated his 22nd birthday earlier this week but he is registering as a veteran compared with Stuart Hogg, a newcomer to the Scotland bench.
By making a debut, Hogg, who can cover full back or centre, would join a distinguished group including Jim Renwick and Gregor Townsend who have debuted for Scotland as teenagers.
In fact, both Renwick and Townsend were within days of their 20th birthday when capped for the first time but Hogg will not leave his teens behind until June.
“The first time I dreamt of playing for Scotland was when I was about five or six and managed to get into the Hawick team dressing-room because my dad was helping with the coaching. It was always great to walk into the clubrooms, too, and see the pictures of some great players who had been capped. If I do get capped I will owe a lot to Jim Renwick who has been my official mentor and is a fantastic man to be around with great knowledge to pass on. Jim takes helping me really seriously and when I was playing for Hawick before joining Glasgow he would make phone calls and jot down notes aiming at helping me improve.”
Appropriately, Renwick will be on a nostalgic trip to Cardiff this weekend in the company of close friend Ian Barnes. For Barnes, who after finishing playing with Hawick has coached, amongst others, Edinburgh Accies, Heriot’s and Stewart’s-Melville, the fixture marks the 40th anniversary of his first cap while Renwick was a member of the Scottish side which created one of the biggest upsets ever when a Wales team including Gareth Davies, Eddie Butler and Roy Gravell were beaten 34-18 30 years ago in Cardiff – there were five Scottish try-scorers that day, including Renwick.
How Hogg would no doubt love to be on the pitch at full time perhaps celebrating the score that ended a four-match Scottish try drought.