WHEN Scotland famously raided the old Cardiff Arms Park in 1982 and snatched a first win in the Principality in 20 years, they broke with tradition and stayed in Bristol the night before the match and did all their preparation there. On the day of the game, before leaving the team hotel, head coach Jim Telfer gave one of his great speeches.
“It was just after the SAS had swung in through the windows at Whitehall to end the Iranian siege – so that was the theme,” recalled winger Roger Baird (who launched the sweeping attack which was finished off by Jim Calder to set Scotland on course to that historic victory) many years later. “We were going to be like the SAS. We were coming from Bristol, going into Cardiff, going to kick shit out of them, and get the hell out of there – and it all went to plan.”
Current head coach Gregor Townsend is clearly hoping Scotland can emulate that famous smash-and-grab mission behind enemy lines as the boys in blue go on the hunt for a first success in Wales since 2002 this weekend. He has kept the squad in camp in Edinburgh until the very last minute before leading his raiding party south on an audacious bid for glory.
Townsend is, of course, a very different personality to his fellow Borderer Telfer, and it is hard to imagine him conjuring up the same furious invective for which the older man became famous – but the thought process is clearly the same. Scotland have a job to do and they don’t need anything impeding the team’s focus.
“Gregor has made the change that we do the captain’s run here [at Murrayfield] rather than go down a day or two early, so I think that’s really helped us with an extra day of preparation at home in an environment which we know and are comfortable with – its worked really well,” explained defence coach Matt Taylor, before jumping on the team’s plane to Cardiff yesterday [Friday] afternoon.
Eight members of the Scottish starting fifteen are playing for the first time at the Principality Stadium – which is renowned as one of the most febrile theatres of conflict in world rugby – but Taylor rejected the suggestion that the new boys may have benefitted from taking part in a reconnaissance mission before the live ammo starts flying.
“Listen, Gregor is a deep thinker and he weighed up the pros and cons, and we believe that spending an extra day here is what is best for the team and will get the best performance. So, that’s basically how we looked at it,” he said.
“Once you’ve prepared really well, that gives you a confidence. That’s all you can do – you can’t be second guessing yourself.”
The enclosed nature of the Principality Stadium can also be quite disorientating – especially when the roof is closed as it will be this weekend – but Taylor said that he didn’t believe having an extra kick-about on the eve of the match would make that much difference to playmakers such of Finn Russell, Ali Price and Stuart Hogg as they try to get to grips with the angles of the pitch.
“It’s like anything, when the guys get there they take in the surroundings, walk around, and in the warm-up you get a lot of confidence in how you are preparing for the game,” he said.
“I think every stadium is different in certain ways and the Principality Stadium is somewhere the guys actually like playing,” he added. “Maybe over the last decade Scotland hasn’t had a great record there, but the boys actually like going down there because the crowd gets into the game and things like that.”
Taylor added that he believes the crowd’s fevered partisanship can actually work in Scotland’s favour.
“They live in a goldfish bowl down there. It’s their major sport and they’ve won a fair amount in the past, so when things aren’t going as well, it can be tough for them – and their crowds can be tough on them. If we play well, that might happen,” he suggested, before dismissing Welsh coach Warren Gatland’s suggestion that Scotland can be exposed at scrum-time and pointing out that there are areas in the home team’s line-up which might be vulnerable
“I’m really confident in our forwards. I’m looking forward to seeing how that tussle ends up,” he said.
“Listen, a couple of their wingers haven’t got many caps. Even though they’re very good players. So, you can expect us to apply some pressure on those guys,” he concluded.