Every aspiring rugby player needs decent kit, but ambitious youngsters who come under the wing of Alan Tait over the weeks and months ahead should be aware that their flashy boots, scrum caps and shoulder protectors will count for nothing if they don't have the one item Tait considers more important than any other:

a reliable alarm clock.

For while some of us can just about remember Tait as the wild child of Scottish rugby when he made his international breakthrough in 1987, it was his enrolment in rugby league's school of hard knocks the following year that did much to shape his views of what a professional outlook actually involves. And good timekeeping is right at the top of his list.

Tait rejoined the Scottish rugby fold last week when he was appointed specialist skills coach for the four BT Sport Academies that are being set up as regional centres of excellence for the country's best young players. As something of a centre of excellence himself during his 27-cap Scotland career, Tait clearly has a lot to pass on, but application and self-discipline come before anything else as far as he is concerned.

"Obviously, you want them to get a lot of enjoyment out of it, but there has to be that hard edge," said Tait, a 1997 Lion who also made eight GB Test appearances at rugby league. "At that stage of your rugby career you're on the bottom rung and you have a fair way to go before you get to the top. It ought to be tough.

"When I was a player at Leeds in the early 90s we were one of the first clubs to have an academy and it turned out to be pretty successful. But it has always been demanding. The lads trained at 7am, before the professionals came in, and seven meant seven. Anyone who turned up at the gym more than a minute late was told they didn't get to train and that they just had to go home. The way they looked at it was that you have to respect the opportunity you've been given to be a professional rugby player."

That ethos is at the heart of everything Tait does. A couple of years ago, after three seasons as head coach at struggling Newcastle, he was effectively put on gardening leave. In limbo, unable to take any other rugby job, the former roofer rolled up his sleeves and built a house. You get the idea he is not one for sitting around for very long.

Nor is he one for harbouring grudges. Tait makes the point that he was not sacked when his time as assistant Scotland coach - to Frank Hadden - came to an end in 2008, but it was an unhappy period and there was still an impression that he and fellow assistant George Graham were treated as scapegoats. Similarly, he was also left out on a limb as defence coach when the Australian Matt Williams succeeded Ian McGeechan in 2003 and made it clear that he had little regard for Scotland's native coaching talent.

By his own admission, Tait had been thrust into that role ahead of his time. "Geech [McGeechan] and Jim Telfer offered me the defensive role in 2000," he recalled. "I was just retired from playing and it's not easy going from that straight into international coaching, with no real background in it. It was just a matter of going along to see how I got on. I was never going to say no because it was a great challenge for me and that's what I'm all about.

"I think I did OK in the early days but it's frustrating in international coaching because you only have the players for short bursts of time and then they go back to the clubs and do things differently. I wanted to get out there and test myself with a club. The whole reason for going to Newcastle was to get experience. I wanted to get that involvement and learn the trade properly."

He also learned about the pitfalls. As much as he enjoyed hands-on coaching, he was less enthusiastic about endless meetings, rugby politics and the all-too-common experience of players he had nurtured moving on to the brighter lights of sides like Leicester, Bath and Northampton.

Hence his zeal for getting back into his tracksuit and, especially, for working with the raw material of Scotland's best teenage players. Some tentative discussions over the past year with director of rugby Scott Johnson confirmed there was enthusiasm on both sides, and Gary Mercer's recent move to the head coach role at Yorkshire Carnegie opened up the job that Tait will start tomorrow.

"I have always been a massive believer in young Scottish talent," he said. "Some of it has come through, and some of it has been lost. Jim Telfer always used to say that the Scottish guys give 100% in everything they do, and it is true. Scottish players will generally give their all.

"I've always known I could give something back. That's what I'm really excited about. The game has been good to me and I have never left Scottish rugby on bad terms. Hopefully, I can now go back and do some good for the young players."