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Quiet man Ryan Grant is perfect choice as vice-captain

Once Scotland's coaches had decided Al Kellock would not be in their starting XV in their RBS 6 Nations opener against England at Twickenham this afternoon, the only serious challenge to Kelly Brown's position as captain had gone.

Ryan Grant is more action than talk
Ryan Grant is more action than talk

Once they decided Greig Laidlaw, the Edinburgh captain, would be in his preferred position, getting his hands on the ball more than any other member of the team, he was the obvious choice to lead the backs.

It was, then, the other vice-captaincy appointment that was most significant, as Ryan Grant, acknowledged by both his coaches and himself to be one of the squad's quieter members, found himself propelled to a new level of seniority.

Dean Ryan, the interim forwards coach, who like Grant is a former military man, said openly there would be little time for complexity in terms of what he would try to do with a group of players he met for the first time 12 days ago. What better way, then, to minimise confusion than by giving extra authority to a player who is unlikely to say much, let alone something that will risk deviating from any key messages, more comfortable as he is with receiving than giving orders.

"I don't say much because I don't feel it needs said and I don't have to change anything for this game," Grant duly explained. "I'm not someone who's going to stand in front of the boys and make a grand speech about how we need to play. If there's something I think I need to say then I'll say it and if not then I'll let Kelly do his job. I'm not going to stand on his toes because he's the man in charge. He's more than capable of doing what needs doing and if he needs a bit of advice or vice-versa then that will happen.

"When I go on to the rugby pitch I play my game and I also do the best I can every time. The best way I can lead is through example, so hopefully I can do that this week."

Never having had any leadership responsibility since school, the prop is the epitome of the leadership by deeds rather than words philosophy espoused by this management. The need for that approach seems all the more important in a side being run by caretaker and stop-gap coaches (curiously Graham Lowe, who quit as elite performance director in the autumn, even pitched up at the team hotel yesterday).

Clarity and directness are, however, euphemisms for the way forwards coach Ryan has always gone about his business, adjectives such as brutal and thuggish also having been used to describe the way he set about playing the game, with no sign so far of legal recourse being pursued.

The game may have moved on a little since his days of taking to the field on a war footing on a weekly basis, but it was always hard to imagine him sending out a pack of forwards to be anything other than confrontational.

To that end, one quote from Scott Johnson, the interim head coach, stood out among all others when he announced his team this week and explained why Jim Hamilton – who missed last summer's tour because he marked his first outing as Gloucester captain last season by being red-carded for attacking a London Irish opponent as they left the field when sin-binned together – was preferred in the starting line-up to Kellock, the Glasgow Warriors captain.

"You're trying to cover contingencies and you're trying to cover how you want to start and use the skill-set of both players in the relevant positions in the squad," Johnson said. "Without saying too much more we're going to a pretty hostile environment, so it's probably best to start one and bring the other one on."

With Johnson also having repeatedly talked about staying in the game for 60 minutes to have a chance, it is surely not too much of a stretch to interpret that as indicating that Scotland are setting out to fight, pretty much literally, for the right to have a chance of snatching a hugely unexpected win in the closing stages.

The choice of personnel seems to reflect that right down the line. All six starting Exiles, who play in the more physical English and French leagues, are in the pack, while they will be whipped to ever-greater effort by Laidlaw, by nature much more a traditional terrier-like Borders scrum-half than the playmaker he has previously sought to be for Scotland.

If Johnson's team can first soak up and then dilute England's power there might just be the opportunity in the closing stages to ring the changes and counter with the sort of higher velocity play that has seen teams from the Pro12 repeatedly get the better of English sides in the Heineken Cup down the years. As with the appointment of this coaching team, that may be something of a long shot, but according to the bookies that is what backing Scotland to win represents.

A total of eight changes to the side that lost to Tonga at Pittodrie in November, compared to only two changes, both enforced, to an England team that ripped New Zealand to shreds a week later, underlines why there is such confidence in the hosts.

Yet Scotland, who won three summer Tests and played well in patches against both the All Blacks and South Africa in the autumn, are surely not as bad as they looked in their last match and they have added significantly to their firepower since, with debutant Sean Maitland joining Tim Visser in taking a championship bow.

Nor are an England team that had won just one of its six matches prior to that stunning performance against the All Blacks, necessarily as good as they looked that day, particularly without Manusamoa Tuilagi, who was inspirational in midfield, one of the two who have succumbed to injury.

Admittedly, for all the entertainment provided by their devil-may-care interim management in the build-up, it is hard to see, against such buoyant hosts, this first team they have assembled doing what only four Scottish teams have done before. But in two-horse races worse punts have been made than on Scotland at the extravagant odds being widely quoted.

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