Rugby: Edinburgh star Matt Scott is onside with refs

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As a final-year law student and son of a high-ranking policeman, it must have been particularly chastening for Matt Scott to find himself in the “sin-bin” during his last start for Edinburgh Rugby.

But, as he savours a first full-time contract, the 21-year-old is able to reflect maturely when putting a yellow card against Glasgow into the context of a safer environment being created across the sporting spectrum.

Whether it is a footballer like Vincent Kompany incurring official wrath for a two-footed tackle during last weekend’s FA Cup tie between the Manchester City side he captains and Manchester United, albeit he took the ball cleanly, or the type of spear-tackle Scott was charged with at Firhill, the message is clear: with so much riding on the outcome of contests officials are going to err on the side of caution. Applying his legally trained brain to the situation, Scott said: “At the time I didn’t think it was a yellow but, looking back, I can understand why the touch judge made that decision. It’s the way the law is at the moment; in my case it wasn’t a dangerous tackle. I didn’t hurt anyone.

“The nature of sport, though, is that it is all about safety. You have to be refereed by the letter of the law, otherwise an assessor will pick up on it and ask ‘why didn’t you take stronger action’?”

The case against Scott was in roughly the same area as that which resulted in Welsh rugby captain Sam Warburton being dismissed in a World Cup semi-final against France this season, albeit the decision at Firhill came at the instigation of the man with the flag; nor did it merit the ultimate sanction.

Thankfully, Scott was eligible to return when his ten-minute stint on the sidelines expired because anybody who knows this stand-off/centre will be only too well aware that a malevolent act is not in his nature.

“I just wanted to make an aggressive hit,” he said of the incident involving Glasgow flanker Rob Harley. “I am not a malicious player. It isn’t in my character to do anything like that. Unfortunately the law is that if you bring a player’s leg to the horizontal you have to be very careful. I’ve looked at the video and will use a different technique in future. We’ve already talked about driving a player forward instead [of lifting an opponent].

“Afterwards I spoke to Rob Harley, who is a good pal, and he didn’t think there was any malice. It happened at a key moment in the game which was unfortunate but these things happen.

“Glasgow scored straightaway which rubbed salt in the wound but a lot of the [Edinburgh] boys have stuck up or me and said I am not stupid enough to spear tackle someone and put team-mates under pressure.

“I wouldn’t deliberately get into trouble like that. The guys have certainly been supportive.”

Repaying that support when Edinburgh head for Paris and a Heineken European Cup tie with Racing Metro on Friday is uppermost in Scott’s mind especially as he was invalided out of the previous instalment with a hip knock after 20 minutes of a match Edinburgh went on to win 48-47, coming back from an amazing 24 points down.

The former Currie High School head boy added: “I couldn’t believe the way the Racing game ended. I was trying to jump about and celebrate but I was pretty knackered by the injury. We need to tighten our defence, especially after conceding 42 points to Ulster last weekend, and that’s where the emphasis will lie in training this week, I’m sure.

“What an opportunity awaits, however, to make a bit of history by doing well in Paris and also our concluding sectional tie with London Irish. Only once before have Edinburgh been in the quarter-finals and that is a great incentive.”

It is turning into a fairytale season for Scott.

“Coming on to Scottish Rugby’s Elite Development Programme as I did at the end of last season I was told the goal is to get a full-time contract within two years. It’s amazing that not only have I managed it already but a few weeks ago I received an e-mail telling me I was under consideration for the Six Nations Championship squad.”

Alas, Scott will have to wait a bit longer to fulfil that dream, which is maybe no bad thing as he continues to try to juggle training with his law studies.

But his class has been noted and, ironically, he found himself going directly up against the shock inclusion in the Scotland squad – Welsh under-20 cap Steven Shingler who is expected to qualify through a Dumfries-born mother subject to an IRB inquiry – when his big breakthrough came as a centre in Edinburgh’s opening European cup tie this season at London Irish. Edinburgh went on to win and Scott recalled: “I had no idea Steven Shingler was going to be available for Scotland. If you are going head-to-head with guys you might eventually be competing against for a Scotland place you want to play well. Hopefully I did.”

That is certainly a bonus in the return but first up are Racing in a match where Edinburgh will have to be at their best.

“We have seen London Irish and Cardiff go there and get wins but we can’t take anything from that because you never know what sort of team they are going to put out. What we have to do is look at the Ulster game where there were too many individual errors and if we each do our bit to eliminate them then that will stand us in good stead.”

Only after that will come London Irish and possibly Steven Shingler at Murrayfield. For Matt Scott there is every incentive to build on his new contract award.

• STUDENTS can buy tickets for Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup match against London Irish on Sunday, January 22 for just £5. For full details, go to www.edin burghrugby.org