SCOTLAND will have points to prove to themselves, their supporters and the world in general when they Travel to Cardiff this weekend hunting their first win in the Principality Stadium since 2002.
Assistant coach Mike Blair admits there are some painful memories of their last trip there. The team travelled full of optimism fuelled by a solid Autumn series and knowing the Welsh team were ravaged by injury, only to produce one of their worst performances of the year and get thrashed.
“I still have the final score, 34-7, flashing in my mind and that final clip on the final whistle,” Blair admitted. “That was something that really hurt us because we thought we were in a good place to get the [Six Nations] Championship started with real momentum.
“It was disappointing but it fuels this game a little more as well. You don’t need anything extra to play for your country but that was a really disappointing result for us and something we definitely want to put right.”
If that was not motivation enough, there is also the Doddie Weir factor. The two unions involved – the Welsh and Scottish Rugby Unions – last night agreed to make a direct contribution to the lock’s charity, set up after he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and he will have plenty of involvement in the game and there will be fundraising around it, so they can expect an emotional atmosphere.
“Doddie is a larger-than-life character,” Blair said. “I bump into him all over the place and he is a real Scottish rugby great. I am flabbergasted about the amount of stuff he is able to do since his illness came out, and he has a real affiliation with the players too.
“About a year ago, he came in and spoke with the squad. It was a really emotional moment. Even the guys who don’t know him that well find there is an emotional connection. His name tied to the cup as well gives it that little something extra.
“I played against him a couple of times. I still remember the stories coming out from camp that he still couldn’t bench-press 100kg.
“When he came to speak to us, he was talking about the illness and saying that it went for your muscles. In typical Doddie form, he was laughing, ‘I’m not going to last that long because I didn’t go to the bloody gym!’
“At that time, he wasn’t probably the big name he had been when with the Lions in ’97 but there was still an aura about him. He’s always been a character. I did some of the corporate stuff in the Thistle Suite and he holds the crowd’s attention, doesn’t he?”
The Scottish players, he accepted, will have to put all that emotion to one side and concentrate on the game itself. There is enough baggage from the February match without adding to it.
For example, it looks as though it is going to be a step back into the cauldron for scrum-half Ali Price with memories of his personal contribution to the defeat – a squint scrum feed handing Wales the attacking platform for their first try and an interception gifting them the second – still fresh.
“He’ll have learned a lot from that. He’ll know different things he’ll do and different situations,” suggested Blair, Scotland’s most-capped scrum-half. “Yes, it was only in February, but a lot has happened since then.
“Ali, in particular, has come back into real form over the past two months or so, a lot has happened in that period. There will be things we’ll talk about, and might change a little or question, but I think a lot of it is experiences of guys who’ve been out in that environment and know what it’s like.
“They’ll be able to learn off the players around them as well. A lot of those conversations and interactions will happen on the pitch where they’ll help each other out.”
The Test agreement allows Wales to decide on the roof at the stadium, so it will be closed for the game, which Blair sees as a mixed blessing. From the home side’s point of view it adds to the atmosphere but, counter-intuitively, it makes handling trickier.
“You would think it would mean a dry ball and you can fling it around but if it is a nice day and the roof is open it is better than when the roof is closed because you create a sweat on the ball,” he pointed out.
“You have 80,000 people in a confined area sweating alcohol from every pore – it is an interesting place – and you do create a sweat on the ball.
“International rugby is about playing in these types of environments, though, and the best way of doing it is when you are with your backs to the wall and you have 70,000 people out against you.
“It will be a great experience for any guys playing their first games.”
Source : HeraldScotland