Matt Scott has paid tribute to Edinburgh Rugby colleagues for providing his springboard back into international contention and a likely 22nd Scotland cap when Wales visit BT Murrayfield tomorrow in the RBS Six Nations Championship
The 24-year-old centre is expected to come off the bench at some stage and climax a return from surgery to both shoulders during the past, often agonising nine months.
It was late November before Scott was able to finally recover from reconstruction surgery following a dislocated left shoulder sustained at Leinster in the final PRO12 match of 2013-14, and while he was out on the sidelines he decided the time was right for tidy up work to take place on his other flank.
His return coincided with a revival of Edinburgh’s fortunes, and in four games back at Murrayfield, he has helped the team win the lot.
“We’ve actually had a really good run with Edinburgh over the festive period, and a lot of our guys have been picked up in the squad. Greig Tonks is on the bench and he’s a classy player who deserves another shot of international rugby.
“We’ve also got Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who I think will be a future starting No.9 for Scotland.
“So, we’ve got a lot of confidence coming from that run of form with Edinburgh. And with Glasgow doing well there’s a lot of confidence from winning in the camp as well,” says the ex-Currie centre. whose comeback suffered a temporary blip immediately before the Six Nations.
“A few weeks ago my shoulder started to grumble again. but it was nothing to do with my surgery – just some inflammation causing me pain.
“I played against Bordeaux, and for about a week after that, I couldn’t really lift my arm. So that first week in camp I was pretty immobile, and then I started to do a bit more training. But that was almost two weeks of no training and not running with the squad.
“I could have maybe played in Paris, but I’d done no training, so it was probably the best decision. I just worked hard on getting it right for this week and my shoulder is grand now.
“It was bad timing. It was just the last couple of games for Edinburgh that the shoulder started to flare up. Luckily, it was nothing serious.”
Fortunately, the Scottish management took a pragmatic view and, with another week’s rest, he is ready, when the call arrives, to re-build a Test career in his first international since the corresponding fixture with Wales that rang down the curtain on the last campaign.
Since then, Vern Cotter has come in as coach and Scott sees significant changes in the set-up.
“The squad has moved on a lot. In terms of the way we’re playing and the confidence in the group, we’re in a different place now. I’ve had the benefit of leaving Scotland and coming back.
I’ve seen a massive change in the way we’re playing and in the whole philosophy and style of the group. Things are moving in the right direction.
“Vern’s not really a prescriptive coach. He doesn’t play rugby by numbers. He gives you a structure and expects you to do your homework – to analyse how we should be playing and things like that.
“We’ve definitely got a bit more leeway. Also, he just says don’t be afraid to make mistakes and try things, which I think is an important philosophy. Even coaching kids, that should be the philosophy: don’t be scared to try things.
“Sometimes in professional rugby you can get caught up in playing with a lot of structure and playing safe, a lot of kicking things like that.
“Obviously there’s a time and a place for that, but the way Scotland play best is utilising our skills in a fast-paced off-loading game.
“Vern has been good at highlighting that,” adds Scott.
Elaborating on the have-a-go approach he is now a part of, Scott adds: “There is obviously a balance. You don’t want to be flinging miracle passes on your own line.
“(But) if there is a logical reason for what you have done – (perhaps) a grubber kick or a crossfield kick and you can say ‘I saw a winger come up or the full-back was not going to get across and I saw space in behind’ and you kick it out on the full – you should reward players. That is Vern’s philosophy.”
Joining Scott on the bench for only the third time in his Scotland career are fellow Edinburgh backs Tonks and Hidalgo-Clyne, with Dougie Fife dropping out now that the experienced Sean Lamont (91 caps) is fit to replace the injured Tommy Seymour.
Coach Cotter makes it clear that Fife is unfortunate, but his selection reflects the need for greater versatility to cover all options.
“With Tommy Seymour, who can play at full-back (as well as wing) being unavailable, we’ve got Greig covering stand off as well. Matt Scott has come back to give us his qualities in midfield, so Greig can cover full-back if required.”
As for Hidalgo-Clyne, there was plenty of method in the scrum-half getting even a couple of minutes to debut in Paris.
‘We gave him that little bit of time, and hopefully that takes a bit of stress off him when he comes on – either here or later in the Championship,” said Cotter.
Edinburgh’s two other representatives, Ally Dickinson and Ross Ford, are at the core of a scrum which must function smoothly to put the powerful Welsh breakaways on the back foot.
As for the Scottish line-out, it had the best return of all Six Nations on the opening day – 90 per cent; Wales’s had the poorest return at 71 per cent, so a possible trump card can be played along the touchline if the hosts choose to mix up the off-loading style that brought 11 tries in the Autumn and another in Paris.
Much has been made of a Welsh backlash to an opening day defeat by England, but Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw has made the point that his team are also hurting from one that got away in France.
Laidlaw’s comment came through gritted teeth and offered a further hint that, after another near miss against the All Blacks in the Autumn, there is a discernible feeling around the Scottish camp that enough is enough and that it is now time to shed the ‘valiant losers’ tag.
And all of this is being stirred behind the scenes by the wily Cotter if an apparent throwaway remark is any guide.
‘We’re playing against a team who consider it just a day in the office to come up and beat us,” he said in typical deadpan fashion.