THE Kirkcaldy coaching team have spent the last week focussed on getting their 1st XV squad up an and running as new season has swung into life, but they have also had time to look ahead to today’s vital World Cup clash between Scotland and Samoa – and there is a natural tension there given that there is a capped internationalist from both countries involved in helping guide the Beveridge Park outfit through this Tennent’s National League Division Two campaign.
Murray McCallum, a specialist coach who helps the Kirkcaldy forwards with their scrum and lineout, has three Scotland caps to his name and will be looking to add more in the future while head coach Quintan Sanft won two Samoa caps back in 2000.
McCallum, the Edinburgh Rugby prop whose international outings came against Wales, Canada and the USA in 2018, knows a lot of the current Scotland squad members well, and the 23-year-old believes they will be desperate to bounce back from the opening loss to Ireland and breath life into their quarter-final bid against Steve Jackson’s Samoa.
“The guys are definitely hurting,” he said. “When you lose a game like the one against Ireland and you are far away from home I imagine it can take a wee while to get your heads back up again, but knowing the lads and the squad dynamic as I do I really feel they will be back ‘on it’ now and will put in a good performance against Samoa.
“They will know that they will in for a physical game, but we have the players who can deal with that and I think if the boys can tire the Samoan defence out then spaces will appear for the backs.”
So, how has McCallum enjoyed getting involved in club coaching?
“It has been really good, I am glad I got involved with Kirkcaldy,” he said. “When I came through the ranks at Dunfermline there were a few folk at Kirkcaldy who tried to get me to go and play my rugby there.
“My rugby took me in a different direction, but now a few years later it is great to be a part of the club and for me as a professional player it is really good to be able to work with guys at an amateur level and try and help them along the way.
“For myself, as a young coach, it is also great to work alongside Quinny [Sanft] and forwards coach Chris Richards. I am learning from them all the time and, after an up-and-down start to the season, hopefully the team can push on up the table now.”
Kirkcaldy currently sit eighth in the table after four games, but have already played two of the leagues early pace-setters in top of the table Dumfries Saints and third place GHK – and Sanft, now 42, believes that exciting times lie ahead.
“There are a lot of exciting young players coming through into the 1st XV and it is the job of myself, Chris and Murray to help them develop and get used to playing senior rugby week-in and week-out,” he stated.
“It is great to have Murray on board because we can pick his brains to see what is going on in the pro game, and we can try and bring some of those things into our set-up.”
It was season 2000-01 when Sanft, then a stand-off, first arrived in Scotland. He joined Kirkcaldy for that year and in November 2000 earned those two full caps for his country against Wales and Scotland.
Sanft kicked a penalty in a 50-6 loss to Wales in Cardiff and then seven days later he was playing against Scotland at Murrayfield. His opposite number that day in the number 10 jersey was one Gregor Townsend as the hosts won 31-8, with Sanft again kicking a penalty.
Fast forward 19 years and Sanft is interested to see how the big World Cup meeting between the two countries closest to his heart pans out.
“I am sure that Scotland will be out to make amends after the Ireland game while Samoa did not play brilliantly against Russia, but they got the win,” said the man who also played for Biggar and has been back at Kirkcaldy in various capacities since 2006 said.
“Samoa have some good players, but they have been dealt a big blow with the news that one of their best ball carriers [Afaesetiti Amosa] is out of the tournament through injury. We can’t afford to be missing players while discipline is still an issue for the team.
“Both teams really need to win this game to keep up their quarter-final hopes so I think it will be quite cagey and nervy to start with and it will be the team who deals with the pressure better who goes on and wins.
“My whole family will be cheering on Scotland and while I live here now I still want to see Samoa doing well so it will be an interesting 80 minutes.”