Scotland coach Andy Robinson has admitted that new boy Tim Visser has been selected for next month’s three-match southern hemisphere tour on more than pure rugby ability.
According to Robinson, the Dutch-born winger had also to provide evidence of desire to represent the country for which he will achieve a residency qualification on June 12 – a week after the Wallabies are encountered in Newcastle in Australia, but just four days before a likely debut against Fiji in Suva.
Drawing on personal experience of crossing a rubicon to take charge of a Scotland team he opposed as a player in a drawn Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham in 1989, Robinson said: “You want to see if a player has a lot of passion to not only play for a club but also for a country. You have got to be passionate about playing for a country and that is as true for Tim as for any Scottish-born player. That is a key element for me.
“Look at my circumstances. I’m English but I am also passionate about Scotland winning and would do everything possible for Scotland to win. That is how I drive myself. I expect the same from any player. He has got to make that sacrifice to the team.
“Tim has shown he has got that and I’m certain we will see that when we go on tour.”
Visser was one of Robinson’s last signings as Edinburgh coach before moving to his present post with Scotland and he recalls: “Tim signed in 2009 and had been doing well for Newcastle but had fallen out of favour. I saw some potential although he hadn’t been a regular with them for a couple of years.”
Visser has hardly looked back and progress at Edinburgh has been swift, too, for Tom Brown, another of the five uncapped players in the party of 28.
Robinson says selection is a reward not just for Brown’s performances in the knockout stages of the Heineken European Cup where Edinburgh reached the semi-finals, but for his attitude and workrate.
“Edinburgh coach Michael Bradley told me about not just Tom but Lee Jones who has grown into a Scotland shirt this season but unfortunately can’t tour because of injury.
“Michael said these guys were among the players who worked the hardest in training. Tom has an energy and a drive to be selected and it came through in the way he trained.
“These are great skills to have and I like to reward that.”
At the other end of the scale Robinson said that Mike Blair, although Scotland’s most capped scrum half with 80 at Test level, retained a desire and urgency while saving some of his best form for the business end of last domestic season.
“Mike won’t be affected by the fact he is between clubs at the moment and had a very mature end of season. The way he played against Ulster in the European semi-final was especially good; the battle between him and Ruan Pienaar was truly outstanding. I joked with Mike that it was only the fact that Pienaar took the goal-kicks and he didn’t that separated them.”
In fact, goal-kicking was the responsibility of Greig Laidlaw who will be making his first tour with Scotland and of whom Robinson said: “I am really pleased with not just Greig’s ability to play either half back position but his captaincy of Edinburgh as well. The way he captained the side was great. He has developed in defence as well as attack and that is tough while his goal kicking has got better and better.
“Greig’s performance against Ulster, in particular, was exemplary.”
Another Edinburgh tourer is Ross Ford and Robinson added: “When I joined Edinburgh in 2007 Fordy was going to Glasgow from a Border side that was just closing down. I dug my heels in and said Glasgow have loads of hookers like Fergus Thomson and Dougie Hall.
“Dougie is going on tour along with Scott Lawson and I believe all three have the ability to go on until the 2015 World Cup.
“Fordy will start but Scott Lawson and Dougie Hall can take over when required and do a good job.”
The fact that Scotland have opted to take an extra hooker in a tour party of 28 is one of the minor surprises and a balance will have to be struck between forward planning and trying to end a run of seven defeats in an alien environment.
Whatever the outcome, Robinson is optimistic that law changes due to be introduced in the EMC Autumn Tests – notably the need for a ball to be played within five seconds of emerging from a ruck – will work in favour of a mobile and relatively lightweight team like Scotland.
The changes were announced this week and Robinson said: “This is something I have been pushing for. It is a horrible, ugly, part to the game when you seen scrum halves waiting at the back of a ruck for the ball to come out.
“Some teams start to wind down the clock from a long way out but above all it is an unfair advantage for a team under pressure to buy time for their players to get back behind the ball. This will encourage kicks aimed at turning teams and putting them under pressure.”