Rugby World Cup 2015: Scotland expect USA to flex their muscles

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland at Elland Road
The Scotland squad trained at Elland Road on Friday
The Scotland squad trained at Elland Road on Friday
Rugby World Cup Pool B: Scotland v USA
Venue: Elland Road, Leeds Date: Sunday, 27 September Kick-off: 14:30 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland & 5 live; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

There was something fitting about where the Scotland players did their thing on Friday, not just the stadium where they trained, Elland Road, but also the room in which they spoke - the Billy Bremner Suite.

Ahead of Sunday's World Cup game with the USA, they came to a place that is, in a sense, a pocket of Scotland plonked in the middle of Yorkshire. If this ground could talk it would surely speak with a hint of Scottish.

Bremner and the Grays; Bobby Collins and Peter Lorimer; Gordon McQueen and Gordon Strachan; David Harvey, Joe Jordan, Arthur Graham, Gary McAllister. The roll call of Leeds' Scottish icons is a glorious one.

Statue of Billy Bremner at Elland Road
The statue of Billy Bremner at Elland Road captures the late midfielder's battling character

Billy Bremner's statue sits outside the door. In the room that bears his name there are pictures of him on every wall. Bremner with the FA Cup and the Charity Shield and being hugged by Don Revie. Bremner in a scrap with Sepp Maier of Bayern Munich. Bremner and Jack Charlton in single beds, chatting merrily like some 1970s' version of Father Ted and Father Dougal McGuire.

Rugby was not their game, but some of those lads would have mixed it easily enough with an oval ball in their hands. If it is not too trippy a concept, Bremner could have been a warrior scrum-half playing beside Strachan, a stand-off with wit and vision. Lorimer could have been a full-back with a howitzer boot, the Grays a pair of flying wings - and Big Joe? What would he have been if not an enforcer in the second-row.

For so long, this was their stage, but the goalposts have shifted and a different kind of sporting Scot is going to be out there on Sunday.

Scotland had a pleasing beginning to their World Cup, but as good as it was to see them run in five tries, and playing some clinical rugby in the process, a dose of reality would not go amiss.

Vern Cotter
Vern Cotter is not getting carried away by the win over Japan

The dominance only came when Japan - who rested six of the heroes who beat the Springboks - lost their most inspirational player, Amanaki Mafi, to injury early in the second half. The deluge of points only came when Japan's energy levels evaporated after the four-day turnaround and when the referee, John Lacey, made some brutally harsh decisions against them.

Cotter, in fairness, lives his life in a perpetual state of sobriety. If you're expecting Cotter to get high on a victory over Japan then you are talking to the wrong man.

No amount of torture - and a room full of journalists is, you sense, pretty painful for him at times - would get Cotter to make grandiose predictions about where his team is heading. The Kiwi is steelier than a girder and about as cuddly as barbed wire. No wonder Jim Telfer said recently that when he looks at Cotter it's like looking at himself in the mirror.

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From the team that eventually put up a big score against Japan he has made 10 changes. Such is the way of things when you have to play two games in four days. There are two new wings, a new midfield combination, a new half-back combination, an entire new front-row and only two of the back five in the scrum remain from the Japan game.

A new captain, too, in Henry Pyrgos.

John Hardie is one of the five survivors from Kingsholm. That's something of a surprise. The expectation was that Hardie, suddenly a vitally important player, would be given a break ahead of the Tests against South Africa and Samoa. He hasn't been. It begs the question of Cotter's strategy for those two games.

Will Hardie be stood down next week against the Springboks to make way for an ogreish combination of Strauss, David Denton and Ryan Wilson? If so, it raises further questions about the logic of taking the South Africans on at their own brutish game.

Scotland team v Japan

All Cotter would say about Hardie is that he will let him get through America and then see what happens. "He had an idea he might be backing-up these games so he's conditioned himself mentally and physically for that type of thing," said the head coach.

"We'll get through this one and then have a look at the South African game and how we pick a team that will compete against them."

The heartening thing is that this Scottish team, with all its changes, still looks a dangerous and well-balanced outfit. It's still got plenty of devil and plenty of grunt, which is just as well, because if there is one guarantee about Sunday it is that the Americans will bring some serious physicality to the table.

Cotter has been flagging that up for months, telling everybody who will listen that the Eagles are huge and will represent a bruising challenge. Nobody is expecting an upset, but Cotter has tooled-up his team for a war of attrition.

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Alasdair Strokosch and Josh Strauss, two of Scotland's heaviest hitters, come in on the flanks but, even still, America are heavier in the forwards - and they're also fresher. They haven't played since last Sunday.

In Samu Manoa, now of Toulon, they have a thunderously good number eight. They lost their opening game to Samoa not because they were outclassed but, largely, because their discipline abandoned them. They gave away 15 penalties - lots of points and a whole lot of momentum. They'll fancy that if they can get that number down to close to single figures then they will cause Scotland all sorts of problems.

"I expect them to be physical and very direct," said Cotter. "They have speed and size and power. They've been improving. They've had a week to prepare and they'll be on the money. Our guys are ready to take that challenge up."

That's about as much fighting talk as you're going to get from Cotter. On the wall close to where he was sitting was an image of wee Bremner with a fist-clenched ferocity. A different game entirely, but Cotter would recognise the spirit and intensity. His team will need plenty of it on Sunday - and in the weeks ahead, when the group's biggest guns are pointing in their direction.