Scotland will have a “harder edge” after their World Cup heartbreak for the forthcoming Six Nations, believes head coach Vern Cotter.
The trauma of the quarter-final loss to Australia, beaten by a controversial penalty award in the dying minutes, is still with the Scots, admitted Cotter as he named a squad of 35 for annual championship which starts on February 6 with the Calcutta Cup match against England at BT Murrayfield.
But he has no doubt that the issue of how the team react in their first game since Twickenham is about what they do, not what referees or even the opposition may contribute.
“It’s sometimes quite hard to go back to (the quarter-final), but that’s a key thing for us moving forward,” he said.
“There is a no-excuse culture within the team, and that’ll come through.
“The most important thing to be taken from it is what can WE do better? We’re not always going to be able to agree with the referee, but in the game there are mistakes made by everybody, so what can we do within our group?”
The trauma will however educate the team, he thinks, and even after last year’s Six Nations whitewash, Scotland have to aim high.
“I think it’s important that we believe we can compete for the title,” he stressed. “The World Cup is behind us now and we really want to move forward.
“Yeah, there were some good things. But we weren’t totally happy with the Rugby World Cup, we’re not throwing our hands up and saying how good we are now. This country is very careful about putting too much expectation of what we do.
“Shared experiences are important for teams, and we went through some tough times during the tournament.
“Those tough times, I think, will give us a harder edge for this coming Six Nations.”
Cotter hasn’t stayed loyal to everyone who was in the party during England 2015, with Ryan Wilson omitted before his indecorous “bag-snatching” incident against Northampton on Sunday that may yet bring a lengthy ban and Ryan Grant also discarded.
The coach has also recalled a number of players who were close to the cut but unlucky for the smaller RWC squad notably John Barclay and Ruaridh Jackson, who have both been playing well for Scarlets and Wasps respectively.
“John’s been moving forward and playing well,” said Cotter. “We’ve had long discussions with him and he was very close to making the World Cup.
“At his club there are sevens that are picked ahead of him, so being able to play six and eight has helped him, he’s adapted his game and he’s still able to make turnovers, because he’s very accurate.
“He’s got 43 caps, and it’s important to have someone like that in the team.”
Two who would have been in the World Cup but for injury are welcomed back in centres Alex Dunbar and Duncan Taylor. Dunbar’s performance against Northampton on Sunday for Glasgow was enough to convince Cotter, while Taylor has been outstanding for the unbeaten Saracens.
Their presence slightly alleviates the fresh injury issues that Cotter has to deal with as the team assemble on Sunday in St Andrews for a three-day training camp.
Six of the named squad wouldn’t be able to play if the Calcutta Cup game was today, and not all of them will be ready in two weeks.
Ross Ford and Alasdair Dickinson crucial figures in Scotland’s much-improved scrummage should be okay, Tommy Seymour, Sean Maitland and Peter Horne will return soon, but Mark Bennett’s shoulder injury prognosis, though improved, could still be mean England come to Murrayfield too soon for him.
Cotter’s minded to the let the longer term injured like Bennett as well as Grant Gilchrist and Henry Pyrgos – with the squad but not yet fit after groin and wrist surgeries play for their clubs before they come into the international arena.
“I would like injured players to have time with their clubs if they can, but if we need them, they need to come to us, we’ll have to do that,” he said.
“With Mark, we were talking about six weeks, two months at the start. He could be back within three weeks now so he may be able ready for the first game fingers crossed.
“He’s been growing. Each game he’s able to break the line, and he creates a lot of danger in the attack.
“He’s worked hard on his defence, and he’s probably underestimated, and I think he takes advantage of that at times as well.”
There are two uncapped players in the squad in Edinburgh prop Rory Sutherland and Glasgow’s Zander Fagerson.
The tight-head from Kirriemuir was only 20 yesterday, and while he and Sutherland may be on something of an introductory brief Cotter thinks they’ll see “some exposure” to action during the championship.
“We used 33 players in the last championship so that could happen again,” he said. “Zander has done exceptionally well, it is really tough being a 19 year tight-head in this game.
“His game against Northampton at the weekend proved he has that competitive desire to do well.”
Hookers: Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh Rugby)
Props: Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors), Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs),
Willem Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby).
Locks: Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Castres), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Ben Toolis (Edinburgh Rugby)
Back row: Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors), John Barclay (Scarlets), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton (Bath), Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors), John Hardie (Edinburgh Rugby), Josh Strauss (Glasgow Warriors).
Scrum-half: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, capt)
Stand-off: Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors)
Centre: Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Duncan Taylor (Saracens)
Back Three: Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (London Irish), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Visser (Harlequins), Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Ruaridh Jackson (Wasps).