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Brown confident he'll hit the right notes

The producers of the new vocal version of "Highland Cathedral" may be hoping for chart success but the performers have their eyes fixed on a very different top 10.

Fresh from recording a single for charity, the Scotland captain is anxious that his team-mates' generosity extends no further. Picture: SNS
Fresh from recording a single for charity, the Scotland captain is anxious that his team-mates' generosity extends no further. Picture: SNS

Billed as "Kelly's Heroes" the Scotland squad members led in song by their captain have produced what is, by sporting standards, a very decent, evocative piece of work that can be downloaded for the benefit of a number of good causes after the official launch at this weekend's Murrayfield meeting with Italy.

However, the men who have made a bad habit of gifting wins to their opponents in the past 18 months know the charity has to stop there.

Eleven defeats in their last 14 matches have taken them to an all-time low but the visit of Italy provides an outside chance of regaining a place among the top 10 in rugby's world rankings.

For that to happen immediately, Scotland and France, who play host to Wales, would both need to win by more than 15 points, but any sort of win would draw the Scots within range of the Italians, whose win over the French propelled them to an all-time high of ninth spot.

Ever upbeat, Brown enjoyed yesterday's flirtation with the music industry but was glad to be heading back to thumping tackle bags and to the form of showbusiness he knows best giving voice to the view that his side can play all the right notes and just has to do so in the right order.

"I always write down my thoughts after games and often, when you watch it, you realise it's not all you thought, but in the game at the weekend I felt as if we were on the back foot and were in our half far too much and when we looked back that's exactly what it showed. We know what we need to improve on and I'm confident that on Saturday we'll do that," he said. "What you need to do to win a Test match is most of the side has to be playing up to or near their best. In the past, we maybe had that in certain areas and not in others.

"On Saturday, we had the firepower out wide but we didn't win the gain-line. So we need to make sure that we put the two sides together and make sure we nail an all-round 80 minute performance. We know we've got it all there, it's just a case of going out and doing it. We've shown in the past that if we can get it right for 80 minutes we can beat these sides, so it's just about making sure that we can do it for the full 80 minutes."

Unfortunately, his fellow back-row forward and rival captain Sergio Parisse is, as Brown acknowledged, entitled to say the same thing. "The Italians have always had this really good set-piece, a really strong forward pack but now it seems they have some more firepower out wide, so we're under no illusions [about] just how tough the task is and we were aware of that before they beat France on Sunday. So it will be tough but I know if we play to the best of our ability we can beat them," said the Scotland captain.

"They're definitely an improving side and it seems in the media that their win has generated a shock, but they beat France in Italy two years ago so there's no doubt that on their day they are capable of beating the top sides, as are we. We just need to make sure it's our day on Saturday."

The trouble for Kelly and his would-be heroes, who are still looking to register a first win since he took over the captaincy in November, is that the Italian No.8 has rather more recent evidence to back up his view. For several years, Parisse was close to being a one-man team during which time Italy went through a period of transition as the ageing team that earned them the right to take part in the Six Nations Championship gave way to a new group of players.

On Sunday, there were high-class performances all over the pitch as the Italians thoroughly earned their victory, but Parisse was still their talisman registering the opening try which gave his men the belief.

His performance is a further reminder of the responsibility Brown bears this weekend, but for all that the man alongside him will be the least experienced afield in Test terms he believes he can count on him.

"Since I've left Scotland I've kept a keen eye on the two Scottish sides; moreso Glasgow. I've been impressed with what I've seen from Rob Harley. He's a very tough and honest player. With Rob and myself on the flanks and Johnnie Beattie at No.8 it's got a really good balance," he reckoned.

Nor can those be expected to have to quell the opposition in the key areas on their own as once the flankers might have been expected to.

"The breakdown has always been seen as a back-row thing but if you look at it now it involves the whole side, so it's something all of us from the loosehead prop to the full-back are working hard on because we all need to make sure we get that part right," said Brown.

Where he leads Kelly's Heroes must follow or rousing songs will once again be set aside for laments on Saturday night.

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