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Chance to re-write horrible history

When it comes to plunging headlong into the deep end, Matt Scott could probably teach Tom Daley a thing or two.

Matt Scott never thought he would get the chance to play the All Blacks   Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Matt Scott never thought he would get the chance to play the All Blacks Photograph: Stewart Attwood

For his international debut against Ireland last season, he had barely half-an-hour's notice, rocketed from the glorified dogsbody role of being Scotland's 23rd man on the Six Nations trip to Dublin to a place on the bench when Nick De Luca was injured during the warm-up.

Scott replaced Lee Jones for the final quarter of the game. Yet as strange as those circumstances were, his rapid transformation from Test wannabe to fully-fledged Test player was a fittingly sudden process for an individual who had kept his finger on the fast-forward button for the previous six months.

Barely a year earlier, he had been a third-year student at Edinburgh University who played rugby for fun at Currie. By his own admission, he had been no rugby prodigy, no stand-out player at age-grade levels, and his career aspirations centred on what he might do with a newly-minted law degree. Even after his talent was recognised with under-18 and under-20 caps, his ambitions in rugby remained modest.

Yet today, after combining his last year at university with a sensational first season at Edinburgh that went all the way to a Heineken Cup semi-final, Scott will line up for Scotland against the All Blacks at Murrayfield. With three more caps added to his international record on Scotland's unbeaten summer tour to Australasia, he is no longer blinking in the baleful glare of the international headlights, but there will be a striking improbability in the experience of staring across the half-way line while All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter performs the haka.

"I've admired a lot of their guys down the years," Scott said. "Carter is probably my all-time rugby idol. He's the guy of my generation that I have most looked up to. But obviously, he's still an opposition player and I have to treat him as such."

The last point is critical, for as star struck as Scott might sound at times, the physical approach he has taken in the colours of Edinburgh and Scotland is not one that suggests undue deference.

Certainly, he is not looking at today's game as just another notch on the rugby bed post. "None of us are thinking that way," he said firmly. "We've got a job to do and if we go into the game thinking, 'It'll be great to get Dan Carter's jersey after the game', we're going to get absolutely humped. So we're just focusing on winning. I think the chance to create history is a big motivation for us because we know no Scotland team have ever done it. We're going into the game with nothing to lose and nobody's expecting us to win; it's a good position to be in."

Of course, as an Edinburgh player Scott is unlikely to be overawed by the surroundings at Murrayfield, although the circumstances of winning his first four caps away from home mean he finally gains admittance to the holy sanctum of the dressing room that is reserved for the exclusive use of the international team, and where the numbered booths boast the names of celebrated players who have worn each jersey.

A dream fulfilled? "Yeah, yeah," he replied. "Looking at the names above the coat hangers of guys who have played there recently, it'll be great to have my name there too. I think it's Graeme Morrison's name there now. I've always walked past thinking, 'oh, it'd be great to be in there'. They have a list of legends of the past who have played in your position, which really does hammer home what you're doing. It's not just what it means to yourself but everyone else."

Scott's father Sean missed his son's international debut in Dublin, but made sure he got to Australia to watch his second international appearance. The 22-year-old centre appreciates the support he gets from his family, but admits his own enthusiasm wasn't always on the same level.

"My dad has been massive for me," he said. "But I remember when I was about seven or eight, I wasn't really that into rugby. You'd have to get up on a Sunday morning when it was peeing down with rain. I was never really that keen to do that but he was always telling me to keep going and I am thankful for that now.

"I really just started playing rugby to enjoy it, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to play professionally. I feel really fortunate to be playing the game I love for a living but it's not just great for the guys like myself. It will be great for my dad and uncle to see me play at Murrayfield. I will be playing for them as well.

"It's really a cliche but you do dream of playing the All Blacks, facing the haka, especially at Murrayfield. I always dreamt of doing that and playing against some of the rugby idols I watched growing up, but never thought I would get the chance."

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Scott and the six other Edinburgh players who are in today's starting line-up is to put their club's wretched form behind them when they pull on their Scotland jerseys. The mantra from the Scotland camp has been that club matters mean nothing in the national squad, but Scott admits it is not quite as straightforward as that.

"I've not played as well as I would have liked," he said. "I feel more confident as a player and I feel a better player than I was six months ago, but it's sometimes funny when your team's not doing well. It's hard to make things happen and I've made a few errors in Edinburgh games this year that I've not been happy with.

"You do kind of doubt yourself a bit and obviously the guys at Glasgow have been playing really well at the moment. Peter Horne and Alex Dunbar have been really good. I've been really impressed with the way they've been playing, so obviously I've felt under pressure."

And yet, as the established centre partnership, playing on their home ground, Scott and De Luca are entitled to take some hope in going up against an All Blacks midfield that contains neither Ma'a Nonu nor Conrad Smith. Tamati Ellison and Ben Smith, their replacements, have impressed with the Highlanders, but the latter is more at home at full-back and has only rarely played alongside Ellison in the centre.

But the old line about there being no such thing as a poor All Blacks side still holds true, and the current one have yet to lose a game this year. "If we leak tries early on we'll struggle," said Scott. "But if we're in the game after 60 minutes, they'll start to doubt themselves. Anything can happen after that. They've got a big unbeaten record to maintain so they will be under pressure too."

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