IT started with a bang for Byron McGuigan but the Namibian-born winger’s international career is about to jump up to a whole new level.
As excellent and exciting as the 28-year-old’s two-try performance was on his first start for Scotland just over two-months ago, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it was against an Australian side operating on vapours, playing their final game of a hectic, globe-trotting season which had seen them battle through 14 matches in 25 weeks, taking in 12 different cities across four separate continents. And for 42 minutes of that match the Scots were playing against 14 men.
Taking on Wales on their own patch at the start of a Six Nations campaign is going to be a far more intense proposition. Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair pointed out during the week that November’s opposition had sat off in defence and allowed the boys in blue a bit more room than they are expecting during the next seven weeks, which will be dominated by ferocious competition for the ball at source and breakneck line-speed whenever a team tries to go wide.
There is pressure in every international match, but the relentless schedule of the Six Nations, and the fact that the pendulum between triumph and disaster for the whole campaign can swing in the blink of an eye, means that things are now going to get really serious.
McGuigan knows this to be the case but says he is relaxed about the fact that he might not be given quite as much opportunity to launch those powerful runs which lit up Murrayfield last November, and which have helped him claim eight tries in the Aviva Premiership so far this season – second only to Josh Adams, who happens to be his opposite number this weekend.
“Personally, I have not played against a Northern Hemisphere team but [I know] it’s very much about defence and a tactical way of playing in the Six Nations,” he said. “Obviously in the autumn we played against teams that run the ball a bit more and we got the opportunity to showcase some of our skills and also how to defend that. It’s going to be a different challenge definitely but it’s one that we are looking forward to.”
“Australia was a very good game for me but the Six Nations is a different competition that we have to perform in – and for me to get this opportunity, it’s just pretty much about taking my chance again,” he added.
McGuigan wasn’t actually supposed to start that Australia game but got his chance when Stuart Hogg’s hip flexor injury prompted a reshuffle of the back three, with Sean Maitland shifting across to cover full-back.
Now that Hogg is back, it is Maitland who misses out, but with so much competition for places, the pressure really is on.
“Absolutely, we have quality back three players so we push ourselves at training and to get the nod is fantastic. It’s just about me taking my chance,” agreed McGuigan.
“The Australia game caught me off guard but at the same time did not give me much time to think about it, which is a good thing. Nothing changes I am going out to enjoy the moment and express myself on the rugby field within the team structures that we have.”
“It’s about making memories and creating history at the same time. It’s about putting in good performances. The coaches lay good foundations, they have trust in the 23, so it’s just about us going out there and delivering.”