‘KILTED KIWI’ John Hardie has been tipped to become a future Scotland crowd favourite and described as an “excellent character” ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
The former Otago Highlanders flanker, who qualifies for Scotland through his Fife grandmother and has only been in the country for seven weeks, has been the subject of debate after he was named in Vern Cotter’s World Cup squad ahead of Blair Cowan and John Barclay.
Scotland defence coach Matt Taylor has sung the praises of the 26-year-old, saying: “I wouldn’t be surprised in six months or a year’s time once he’s had a lot more games for Scotland that he becomes a crowd favourite. If he keeps playing the way he is, the Scottish people will appreciate that he’s working hard and putting his body on the line. He’s already done that and I think he’ll continue to do that.”
Hardie now has two caps from the warm-up series and, after solid performances in both Turin and Paris, Taylor hopes that the focus moves to what the player does on the pitch.
“He has been excellent,” said Taylor. “Off the top of my head, I think he made nineteen tackles the whole game in France. He was very dominant, he makes a lot of dominant tackles. He is short but he is around 104 kilos so he is a powerful guy.
“Both games he has shown he puts some really powerful hits he has done a really good job in the games he has been involved in.”
The assistant coach said that Hardie, who is without a club at present, has adapted well to his adopted homeland and gelled quickly with his new team-mates.
Taylor said: “He is an excellent character, from my point of view, a coach’s point of view, he is quite a quiet guy. He has come in and kept his head down he has worked extremely hard in training. He has got to know the guys. When you get as chance to talk to the other players, they will tell you they really like him and think he is a good part of the squad.”
Meanwhile, Taylor says the stereotypical view of Japan as physically small but highly organised will not be born out by the reality Scotland will come up against at Gloucester in 12 days time when they open their World Cup campaign.
Scotland have faced Japan in the World Cups of 1991 and 2003 but Taylor has warned that pre-conceived notions about the Brave Blossoms would be unwise.
“From what we can see of Japan, they are a very good side,” said the Australia-born former Scotland A cap. “Maybe the stereotype of Japan, and the Japanese people in general, is that they are quite small, but this side is actually quite big when you look at them.
“The have a big back line and a big forward pack. They try to play a quick tempo type game, a very high skill game, but actually there are a lot of big players in that group. They have a few Islander guys in there, the back row Hendrik Tui, he is very, very good and has scored a lot of tries.
“There is a centre, Male Sa’u he is a really good carrier and strong, so they have some really good players in the group. They might play it slightly differently from maybe South Africa or Samoa but they do have powerful athletes as well.”
Japan are coached by Eddie Jones, the man who led Australia to the 2003 World Cup final, and a glance at the squad list shows, in addition to to the Pacific Islanders, names like Luke Thompson, Michael Broadhurst, Justin Ives and Craig Wing.
Like Scotland, they have exploited the residency rules and Jones said this week: “We still use foreign players but we try to keep Japanese players in the key positions, 2, 8, 9, 10, 15, so the team is run by Japanese players and those who qualify by residency bring power to the game. You need power.”
Skipper Michael Leitch may not sound very Japanese but the Fiji-born 26-year-old did move to Japan with his parents as a 15-year-old.
Scotland’s South Africa-born back-rower Josh Strauss becomes eligible a week tomorrow and Taylor admitted it was yet to be decided whether he is thrown straight in against Japan or held for the next game against the United States or even debut against the land of his birth.
“That is something we will have to sit down, talk through and work out,” said Taylor. “Dave Denton has been playing pretty well, so it is something we are going to have to work out — how we are going to use our guys or whether we have specialist No 8s in which games and why, things like that.
“That could be the case, he could start against Japan or against the USA or he might not start at all until maybe South Africa. We are going to have to sit down and work out what is best.”