With coach Vern Cotter committed to seeking inspiration for his team from a proud Scottish rugby heritage, the Kiwi could do worse than point to the contributions made by Iain Paxton.
In five matches against Wales, Sunday’s opponents at BT Murrayfield, the Edinburgh-based No.8, who represented Selkirk, was more often on the winning side, contributing three of his five international tries in a career that harvested 36 caps, plus four Lions Tests against the All Blacks in 1983.
Paxton’s stint coincided with a relative golden era for Scottish rugby and – encouragingly – the match he feels kicked started it all came against the Welsh. That was back in 1982 and, as he reviews the current scene, Paxton, below, claims to see parallels.
Scotland had not won in Wales for two decades before that encounter but, like the present team, had enjoyed a good result before Christmas. On that occasion they defeated Australia.
“It sometimes just takes one win for a kick-start and we travelled to Wales knowing we were knocking on the door of Championship success but still needing to prove we could get over the line.
“After beating Wales we went to Australia and won our first ever Test in the Southern Hemisphere and the following season posted what is still the last Scottish win at Twickenham.
“To top off it all off we took a Grand Slam in ’84.
“Our coach, Jim Telfer, was ahead of his time with video analysis the norm long before others caught on.
“Jim also ensured we stayed out of the Welsh Capital, in Chepstow, and compared our mission to an SAS raid.
“The more I think of Jim’s approach the more I think Vern Cotter is from the same mould.
“I’ve seen some of the same looks in Vern’s eyes and the stare that tells me I wouldn’t want to make a mistake and have to deal with the consequences!”
Scotland won 34-18 in ’82 with Paxton figuring in a pitch-length break out for the opening try; alas he was immediately stretchered off with damaged knee ligaments and agony was later piled on agony. “Instead of heading off to Hong Kong sevens I had to turn up at the airport and hand over my kit to a replacement, Paul Hogarth!”
Paxton’s next encounter with Wales, also in Cardiff, saw him score a try that would help clinch the first leg of the Grand Slam although some critics (mostly Welsh) suggested he had taken a pass so forward “it was more of a baton change!”. Paxton denies the charge and promptly put two more tries on Wales at Murrayfield in ’85 while, in 1987, he was one of five No.8s chosen and who actually scored a scrum pushover try in a victory based on running the visitors off their feet.
“Put that try down to The Bear (Iain Milne) who was absolutely immense and from my position immediately behind him filling in at second row I had the easiest of afternoons,” says Paxton.
Having watched Wales go down to England on Friday evening and studied the footage of Scotland winning the try-count if not the match in Paris this one-time Boroughmuir coach is optimistic about Sunday’s showdown.
“Vern Cotter has put together the best Scottish back-line of recent times and I think all that’s needed is belief that could come with a single big win just as we needed a bit of convincing all those years ago. With the Scottish defence magnificent I’m hoping to see our forwards hitting up a couple of times to create space for the backs to get in behind their opponents. After that who knows where this Scottish team might go?”