Scotland: Vern Cotter lays down marker against United States

By Mike BlairFormer Scotland scrum-half
Interview: Scotland head coach Vern Cotter

The USA side that will take to the field in Houston on Saturday evening possess power and size.

And this Scotland team, the first to be selected by the visitors' new coach, Vern Cotter, should be able to more than match them in these departments.

I wouldn't have thought this was a team chosen specifically to combat their physicality of this USA side, but more an indication of how the New Zealander wants the game to be played.

Blair Cowan in training
Blair Cowan will make his debut for Scotland after a fine season with London Irish

In Cotter's fairly limited public pronouncements so far, his rugby philosophy has been quite apparent. Physicality, intensity, work-rate and desire are words repeated time and again. They are the basis of international rugby.

They are visual qualities and my impression of Cotter is that, if players don't show them, even after one game, they will not get another chance.

Of course, there will be intricacies and special plays brought into their game but, in many ways, this match against USA will provide the perfect physical opener to the tour.

It is probably close to the largest three-quarter line ever selected to play for Scotland, with Finn Russell charged with pulling the strings in his first international. There should always be an option of Sean Lamont or Duncan Taylor on Russell's shoulder, taking the heat off him and looking to win the gain line.

As the game breaks up, expect Russell to challenge the tiring American inside defence, working with his back three of Tim Visser, Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg.

It's a real strength of his game, taking the ball from his scrum-half on the drift, straightening and then challenging the defensive second defender out from the ruck to make a decision whether to tackle Russell or the quick inside-trail runner.

With Max Evans capable of playing in the centre and on the wing, there will potentially be opportunities to use his pace and elusiveness in that 13 role once Lamont has tired out the defensive line.

I mentioned Blair Cowan and his qualities in my last column. Recently voted London Irish's player of the year, he gets the first opportunity to put his marker down in the seven jersey.

Cotter seems a believer in a specialist open-side, mentioning injuries to Ross Rennie and John Barclay as paving the way for Cowan's inclusion. On a side note, Barclay will be delighted to hear his name mentioned by the new coach in conjunction with a return to the national set-up.

USA flanker Todd Clever and Scotland prop Gordon Reid
USA flanker Todd Clever and Scotland prop Gordon Reid will be in opposition in Houston

Gordon Reid will win his first cap too - a great story of a guy who hasn't been given an easy path to the top but never gave up on his dream. The prop's been impressive for Glasgow Warriors, giving Ryan Grant a real run for his money.

Lack of game time in recent weeks will concern Cotter, and this is where doing simple things well becomes key.

Playing in the high humidity and heat of Houston will stress the players decision-making skills and fitness too, but all these external components will make it easier for Cotter to identify the individuals within this squad that have the qualities for which he is searching to take this team forward.