Calum MacRae backs Matt Scott to challenge for Six Nations involvement

Edinburgh defence coach believes that the centre has used his recent injury-free run to improve his all-round game

Matt Scott made a big impact off the bench Edinburgh against Glasgow Warriors last weekend. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson
Matt Scott made a big impact off the bench Edinburgh against Glasgow Warriors last weekend. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

EDINBURGH defence coach Calum MacRae believes that Matt Scott has made the necessary improvements in his game to be a serious contender for Scotland selection during the Six Nations.

Scott was a regular in the Scotland side from his debut against Ireland in March 2012 through to an injury-curtailed 2016 Six Nations, but has not worn the thistle since coming off the bench as a second-half replacement against Australia on the 2017 summer tour.

Injury has not helped the centre – he missed most of last season with a concussion which refused to clear – but concerns over his defence has also been a significant contributing factor.

Jonny Gray signs for Exeter Chiefs on a two-year deal

Edinburgh make 11 changes for Southern Kings clash

Glasgow make major changes for crucial Treviso trip

Scott wasn’t involved in the build-up to Scotland’s World Cup which may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise. He has been able to get himself back into tiptop condition with Edinburgh, and that has been reflected in his performances for the capital club this season.

He did have one minor lay-off with a rib injury during December but returned to make a big impact off the bench in his team’s 1872 Cup success against Glasgow Warriors last weekend.

“When Matt first came back to the club the first thing he was looking to do was to improve as a player,” said MacRae. “Obviously, defence is an area that I take charge of and I’ve been really, really impressed by him this season around the principles that we hammer into the guys in the backline around what we look for.

“I think there’s been a marked change in his behaviour and the consistency of the work that he does there has improved. Hopefully the national selectors see that and will pay credit to his club form in that respect.

“He obviously did very well with ball in hand off the bench last week, but the set-piece efforts defensively that he had to deal with against a dangerous Glasgow attack, I thought he did exceptionally well.”

Scott is back in the starting XV to take on the Southern Kings at Murrayfield tomorrow [Saturday] night. Head coach Richard Cockerill has made 11 changes to his side and it is testament to the strength in depth he has built in the squad during the last two and a half seasons that it is such a strong looking team.

“I feel as though there has been a far better squad contribution [this season], and this weekend is going to be another example of that for the guys who have been rotated in,” said MacRae.

In the pack, Viliame Mata is out with a leg injury, Jamie Ritchie has a hamstring issue and Stuart McInally has hurt his ribs, but MacRae stressed that all three are expected back in the next few weeks.

The Kings currently prop up Conference B in the PRO14 with just one win and one draw in seven games played so far, but MacRae added that there is no danger of Edinburgh taking the South Africans lightly – especially after a defeat in Port Elizabeth last January proved costly to the team’s 2018-19 play-off aspirations.

“If I’m really honest, the thing that’s really stuck in my stomach this week is how I felt, and how the squad felt, over there in Port Elizabeth last year when we lost that fixture,” said MacRae. “I keep reiterating that these games are as important as any others in the PRO14 season – you get the same points for them – and that was one we knew we let slip last year.

“The [team] selection is one we feel can go out and win the game. I think the squad has contributed really well and I can’t see there being complacency because there’s a real drive in the group just now.

“We know what it’s going to take with a tightly packed conference on our side. We have to keep knocking teams off week-in and week-out, otherwise the other teams in the conference will.

“We feel as though the Kings are an improved side from last season,” he added. “They have an experienced coaching team. Swys de Bruin has come in to run their attack, he has been with the Springboks recently and Nic Groom has spoken very highly about his input when they were at the Lions together.

“We’re looking for consistency on our side. It was a big game last week, but this is an equally big game with the same number of league points on offer, so we’ll really be looking to get our fundamental parts right along with respecting the threats they have across their team which we know all about because the last time we played them they got one over on us.”

Jonny Gray signs for Exeter Chiefs on a two-year deal

About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.