Scotland hooker Stuart McInally and scrum-half Sam Hildago-Clyne spoke to us about their thoughts on the summer tour to Japan, promoting rugby at grassroots level, the upcoming November Tests and Scotland’s progress made under head coach Vern Cotter.
The two players had spent the day at Glenrothes RFC to help out young players from all ages and offer them some tips on improving their rugby skills. As Sam explained: “It’s been a great day here at Glenrothes, we’ve been taking sessions with all different age grades, we’ve been going around in little groups giving them tips, explaining what we do and going around and helping them out. We’ve just been making sure they enjoy the day.”
It’s these kind of events that are so important to help to inspire young players to take up the game or continue their development, and that responsibility for nurturing the players of tomorrow is something that is so crucial to all Scotland internationals. It feeds through into the way Scotland aim to perform on the field and the rugby philosophy that Vern Cotter has helped to instil in the players.
“I think with the new laws that are coming in and the way we’re trying to play is very encouraging for people coming up, especially fans who want to see some exciting rugby. The way that we want to play with our attacking game is definitely something that should be looked at a grassroots level and keep kids interested in the game.”
It is something of a new approach for Scottish rugby compared to recent years, but Stuart McInally explains that the way the team is playing like right is reminiscent of the best sides to have pulled on the navy blue jersey over the history of the sport: “Vern Cotter is massive about attack and about us having the skills set to attack from everywhere. If opportunities do come up, for instance a four-on-three, that should be something we’re completing every time, he wants us to have the ability to do that.
“A lot of our training is based around skills and looking to improve every time we train. Vern coached in France for numerous years, he’s from New Zealand, he likes to play a high tempo game and he likes to keep the ball in play and keep the offloads coming – a game that all the players like to play as well. It’s a very traditional, Scottish way to play: very fast, very open. Maybe in the years gone past we’ve gone away from that a little bit. However, he’s done really well and got Scotland to playing back the way it plays best.”
After a mixed Six Nations, where Scotland began with a slow start before finally hitting their stride towards the end of the tournament, the two-Test summer tour to Japan was a chance for Vern Cotter’s charges to continue to develop their attacking game and improve the consistency of their performances. McInally emphasises that at no point did Scotland underestimate the Brave Blossoms, given their rise to prominence at last year’s World Cup.
“It was valuable playing against Japan; they’re getting more and more respect in the rugby world since they got their scalp against South Africa and we know they’re a force to be reckoned with. We went out there knowing just how hard they were going to be having just played them in the World Cup. To get two Test wins away from home was tough. For players like myself who started for Scotland it was brilliant, but also playing in that heat was challenging for us and it was a different environment, so it was hugely positive for us to get to wins as well.”
Temperatures soared and humidity rocketed in Tokyo for both Tests and although the performances were not quite as slick as many supporters would have hoped for, it was certainly excellent preparation for the conditions Scotland will find themselves in during the World Cup in three years’ time.
Now both players will set their sights on the November home Tests against Australia, Argentina and Georgia, with the latter playing their first ever Test in the country. As srum-half Hidalgo-Clyne elucidates: “We’re certainly trying to get as many wins as we can, we’ll be looking to get wins over Georgia and Argentina and try and play as well as we can and hopefully get a win over Australia.”
But will the Australia Test have added impetus for the squad after the narrow loss to the Wallabies in last November’s World Cup quarter-final? McInally believes so.
“Yeah I think it will, they’re a team currently above us in the world rankings and the last time we met in the World Cup we had a very close and tough Test match that just went their way, so we’ll be looking to get one back on them – we owe them one – on our home patch and it’s something we’ve done before against Australia. We’ll be looking to do it again.”
Both players feel very positive about the progress the team has made under Cotter since he took on the head coach job back in 2014. McInally eulogises enthusiastically about the impact the New Zealander has had on Scottish rugby:
“Vern is a wonderful coach, he’s just very, very clear what he wants to achieve with us and he’s very clear on his messages to us. If you’ve played well or not played well you’ll soon find out which is great for a player because there’s no grey area.
“He’s massive on skills, which is what the players love to work on and what the players love seeing us getting better at and improving and it’s a very good way of motivating each other as we know every time we go out there he is desperate for us to get better.
“Vern is also keen on learning, he gets frustrated if we make the same mistake twice and it’s good pressure to put on us as well. We know if we’re in in a situation where we’ve made a mistake, he doesn’t just shout at you, he says: ‘Look, I don’t expect this to happen again’, but our standards have picked up a lot because of him, so he’s definitely been a good addition to the Scotland set-up.”
Both players feel confident about the direction the national side are moving in and with three challenging Tests to come in November, they offer the perfect springboard for the team to move to the next level. Moreover, Scotland as a team have the chance to inspire young players across the nation this Autumn and that is something truly exciting.
As a part of the Royal Bank RugbyForce 2016 initiative, Scottish Rugby players Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Stuart McInally appeared at Glenrothes RFC. For more information on Royal Bank RugbyForce please click here.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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