Last week's 24-6 victory over the USA Eagles in Houston was very much a case of “job done” for Scotland under new boss, Vern Cotter.
Last weekend's 24-6 victory over the USA Eagles in Houston was very much a case of “job done” for Scotland under new boss, Vern Cotter.
Three tries to none, a dominant forwards display, strong performances from the debutants, and ultimately, a decent margin of victory.
Such is the quality of the average wifi connection in the rural Northeast, I was left relying on the wonderful Borders brogue of Bill Johnstone on BBC Radio Scotland to keep me abreast of the game rather than watching the action live online. But when, after a few days (yes, days) of buffering, I caught up with the match footage; I was left feeling a tad underwhelmed.
The Americans, brave and spirited though they were, and rapidly scaling the heights of the international game though they may be, were there for the taking. Frankly, Scotland could and probably should have doubled their points tally, plus VAT.
There were scores of opportunities, especially in the first half, to put the game to bed, and the Scots – in not entirely unfamiliar circumstances – treated the fantastic BBVA Compass Stadium crowd to a masterclass in butchery.
If it sounds like I'm complaining, or doing the Eagles – who battled well and stayed in the game 'til Stuart Hogg's try extinguished hopes of a comeback – a disservice, then I apologise; it was a solid and satisfactory start to Cotter's reign. But Scotland let an awful lot of points slip away in the sweltering Houston heat – they cannot afford to do so again as the eminence and potency of their opposition steps up a notch with each passing week this month.
So what of this weekend's opponents? The Canadians, like the Eagles, are peppered with talent, but boast a more liberal sprinkling of quality than their continental rivals, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Their Jekyll-and-Hyde display against the Japanese last weekend will give the Scots hope: despite a flying start and some excellent interplay leading to three tries, the ease with which the Brave Blossoms splintered the home midfield, exploiting the 10-12 channel several times on their way to recouping a 25-9 half-time deficit was striking.
Japan, as Scotland discovered in November, practice an energetic, rapid-fire brand of rugby. It is more likely that Scotland will send their big carriers – Johnnie Beattie, Tim Visser and Sean Lamont – down the throat of fly-half Harry Jones, picking lines off Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell in their quest for line breaks.
Certainly, though, the visiting pack will not enjoy such overwhelming dominance up front. Where the rotund and impotent Olive Kilifi was folded in two by Geoff Cross at scrum-time, Canada can call upon the services of Hubert Buydens and renowned hard-man Jamie Cudmore in the second-row, a long-time partner of Nathan Hines in Cotter's Clermont engine room.
Head coach Kieran Crowley names Glasgow Warriors favourite DTH van der Merwe on the bench as he continues to recover from long-term injury, with the dangerous Ospreys winger Jeff Hassler starting out wide while club-mate Tyler Ardron skippers the team from number eight.
For Scotland, the wily Peter Horne and Grant Gilchrist are drafted in for injured pair Duncan Taylor and Jim Hamilton in a team laden with power, with uncapped duo Kevin Bryce and Grayson Hart on the bench. Lamont should not be playing in midfield, nor Kelly Brown on the openside flank, but given the purpose of the tour and the players at his disposal, Cotter's choice should not cause alarm; both will more than do the job asked of them.
Ones to watch:
For Canada: Mention of Jeff Hassler a year ago would likely have left most PRO12 fans with blank faces, but after the speedster scored six tries and made the league's admittedly sketchy “Dream Team”, the Scots ought to be wary of the threat he poses.
Scotland: Keep an eye on the performance of new boy Gordon Reid, who won his first cap last week, in the tight. A fine ball-carrier in the wide expanses, his set-piece skills will come under far greater scrutiny in Toronto than they ever did in Houston.
Head-to-head: Two of the most experienced men on the Toronto turf will face off directly around the fringes. Scrum-halves Phil Mack and Greig Laidlaw have been around the block a few times, and their respective service and game management will prove key to the contest. Laidlaw's delivery from ruck and scrum is not especially slick, but he is an exceptionally intelligent rugby player, and if given time and space as he was in Houston, will run the show at nine.
Canada: 15 James Pritchard, 14 Jeff Hassler, 13 Ciaran Hearn, 12 Nick Bevins, 11 Taylor Paris, 10 Harry Jones, 9 Phil Mack, 8 Tyler Ardron (c), 7 John Moonlight, 6 Jebb Sinclair, 5 Jamie Cudmore, 4 Tyler Hotson, 3 Jason Marshall, 2 Aaron Carpenter, 1 Hubert Buydens.
Replacements: 16 Ray Barkwill, 17 Andrew Tiedemann, 18 Jake Ilnicki, 19 Kyle Gilmour, 20 Jon Phelan, 21 Gordon McRorie, 22 Connor Braid, 23 DTH van der Merwe.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Peter Horne, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Johnnie Beattie, 7 Kelly Brown, 6 Al Strokosch, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Moray Low, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Kevin Bryce, 17 Kyle Traynor, 18 Geoff Cross, 19 Kieran Low, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Grayson Hart, 22 Ruaridh Jackson, 23 Max Evans.
Date: Saturday 14th June
Venue: BMO Field, Toronto
Kick-off: 1400 local, 1900 BST
Referee: Mike Fraser (NZ)
Assistant referees: Stuart Berry (SA), Nick Ricono (USA)
TMO: Davey Ardrey (USA)
By Jamie Lyall