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Leg fractures mended . . . now to break back into starting XV for Tim Visser

Where better to start a countdown than Space City?

Vern Cotter lets his Scotland charges know what he expects from them in his first training session. Picture: SNS
Vern Cotter lets his Scotland charges know what he expects from them in his first training session. Picture: SNS

Fifteen months out from the next World Cup, the clock is certainly ticking in the minds of Scotland's players and coaches as they train in the sultry heat of Houston ahead of Saturday's match with the USA at the BBVA Compass Stadium.

Those few players who are undertaking the whole of a summer tour that will take in Canada, Argentina and South Africa as well as the current stop, will chalk up an impressive number of air miles along the way, but the more pressing concern for all of them will be the impression they make on Vern Cotter, who officially took over the reins as head coach earlier this week.

And the most pressing of all is for those who have particular points to prove. Players like Tim Visser, for instance. The Dutch-born winger missed all of last season's Tests after suffering a double leg fracture in Edinburgh's RaboDirect PRO12 match against Treviso in October, so he is well aware this is his first chance to make an impression.

The process is mutual, of course. Cotter comes to the Scotland fold with a reputation as a straight talker and a hard task-master, and on the evidence of the past few days it is well deserved as far as Visser is concerned.

"We have definitely seen that side," said the 12-times-capped 27-year-old. "He does not say much. He says what he wants you to do and then lets you get on with it. At the same time if he wants you to do things slightly differently he will come up to you and tell you personally.

"It is a bit nervous up until you meet him and figure out what he is about and then it gets exciting. With new coaches - and in my time at Edinburgh I have had quite a few - it is all about doing what the coach wants you to do.

"Some rugby players don't understand that. They think they should do what they think is best. But part of being a pro rugby player, and why you are being paid for this, is to do what the coach wants you to do."

It could be argued, of course, that sitting out this season's Six Nations and the last autumn Tests added up to a positive career move, but Visser found the long haul back from injury to be an intensely frustrating period. So severe were the fractures of his leg that he was virtually confined to his couch for the first two months, and he then had to go through the inevitably anxious steps of testing the leg in increasingly demanding circumstances.

"The last part, the going from leg weights into running, was really weird after a double leg break," he explained. "I was running on it, but I didn't know if I could put my whole weight on it. I was a bit nervous about going back into contact training, but the first thing [Edinburgh flanker] Roddy Grant did was make a low tackle right where I broke my leg and it was fine."

Another doubt, perhaps more in the minds of Edinburgh fans than Visser's own, was whether his legendary scoring gifts had also survived the rehabilitation period. Goodness knows, he was missed while he was away, but he put those troubled minds at rest with two tries in the four starts he was able to make in the last few weeks of the PRO12 season.

And yet, his absence also saw the rise of Glasgow's Tommy Seymour as a first-choice starter for Scotland, as well as the emergence of Dougie Fife. As his involvement in the current tour is limited to the North American leg, Visser is only too aware that he needs to put down his marker quickly.

He said: "I definitely need to impress and I want to impress; I'm really hungry about that now. A while ago I was only at the stage of just hoping to be on tour, but now I'm at the stage where I really want to impress again. With the World Cup coming up, it's all about trying to stake your claim."

Thus far, at least, he is happy with what he has seen of Cotter the coach at work. "He is really into intensity," said Visser. "The type of training we have been doing is short and intense - real hard work, but that is brilliant because as a player you would rather be on the training paddock for short, hard times and for the work to be harder because that is how it is in games."

Cotter has also been allowing longer plays to develop on the training pitch to test the stamina of his players in conditions that, even with an evening kick-off on Saturday, will be as fierce as many of them will ever have faced.

"That was tough," said Visser of the lung-busters. "After three minutes a few of the boys were breathing heavily. But so will they [the Americans]. If we can get used to it in training and we can prove that we are fitter than them in the game then it is a level playing field."

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