Scotland: Hugo Southwell savours swagger of Vern Cotter's side

Hugo Southwell
Hugo Southwell is excited by the talent and confidence in the Scotland squad

Almost 11 turbulent years have passed since Scotland last mustered three victories in a Six Nations championship, a campaign in which Hugo Southwell was a sturdy ever-present at full-back.

Southwell played his part in some famous autumn triumphs in a Test career spanning 59 caps. More often than not, Scottish hopes were raised by the November conquering of the southern hemisphere titans, duly dashed come spring. False dawns? He's seen plenty.

And yet, he can't help getting excited again.

He spies a little swagger in Scottish rugby. A touch more guile evident in the November wins over Argentina and Georgia and the sickening loss to Australia.

Vern Cotter's Scotland, he reckons, are a dauntless brood blissfully unencumbered by the burden of past suffering.

"Some people might get a bit upset by this, but what I feel now is that we've got a team that has got a bit of arrogance, but plenty humility," he told BBC Scotland.

"Before, I think we had too much humility, especially in my era. I'm not saying that meant we weren't good enough, we needed more people like Stuart Hogg, Finn Russell, Huw Jones, that come on the scene and nothing fazes them.

Finn Russell and Huw Jones
The verve and belief of Finn Russell and Huw Jones, among others, has raised Southwell's hopes

"They go out and play as if they've been playing for 10 years. Balance that with someone like Jonny Gray, a slightly different character, it's just a good blend and that's what excites me.

"Certain players have got a bit of edge that we potentially lacked.

"We had plenty guys that led by the way they played, we had brilliant players, but we just needed a bit more. It's that real belief that you're going to go out there and make things happen."

Painful memories from final Scotland appearance

The Six Nations is a ruthless environment. The pace is furious; collisions punishing. And the consequences of misjudgement can be profound.

Southwell knows all about that. He's tried hard to wipe the memory of his last act in a Scotland jersey from his psyche - a desperate and sickening collision with his airborne opposite number, Wales full-back Lee Byrne in the 2011 championship.

Hugo Southwell impedes Lee Byrne
Hugo Southwell careered into Lee Byrne, upending the Welsh full-back, in his last Scotland appearance

Chasing a garryowen, he careered headlong into Byrne's raised boot. The Welshman spun in mid-air and thudded to ground. Southwell's face, mouth agape, bore the brunt of the impact. Byrne's studs shredded his cheek.

"I came off a lot worse than he did," he recalls. "He played on; I was off for the rest of the game.

"I got stitched up there and then, and got an infection. By Monday afternoon I was rushed to hospital with septicaemia in my face, and proceeded to have a pretty brutal two-hour operation to scrape out what was in there that shouldn't have been.

"I should've slowed down. I wasn't thinking like that, I was thinking 'I want to make an impression here, I've had a bad start to the game', and unfortunately it got even worse."

Hugo Southwell
Hugo Southwell's face was lacerated by the studs of Lee Byrne

Sitting in judgement

Five years since his wounding encounter with Byrne's studs, and two into retirement, Southwell is among the ex-internationals who hear the cases of players cited for foul play, and where necessary, decide their sanctions.

Most recently, he sat on the panel that suspended England's Elliot Daly for three weeks, after he upended the Argentine Leonardo Senatore.

"I almost sensed - it felt like it was me in his shoes," he said. "I knew as soon as I saw it that it was reckless - it was a reckless misjudgement, he got his timing wrong.

"I've been through all that and I can empathise with the player.

"If you're running at full speed trying to get to the ball, that split-second three or four metres before you get to the player comes very quickly upon you.

"Your thought process becomes quite irrational. There's more to it than that, and having been a player, that's what you can add."

It is this insight that World Rugby craves - where possible, it has announced, judiciary panels will comprise an ex-player and an ex-referee "with experience of the modern game", alongside a QC, and will be tasked with enforcing more stringent foul play regulations.

Elliot Daly was red-carded against Argentina
Southwell sat on the panel that banned England's Elliot Daly for three weeks

"The player will guide us step-by-step through the footage, what he was thinking in every single split-second," Southwell explains.

"The questions are then asked - why were you doing this, what was happening here, why were your arms doing that?

"The experience in the room from the legal perspective combined with us, it should be quite easy to come to the conclusion whether it's intentional foul play or recklessness."

Citing consistency

Judging intent is a murky business; the myriad sanctions and suspensions rugby dishes out, and their consistency foggier still.

Daly's upending of Senatore was unacceptably clumsy, if not malicious, yet the Argentine could have suffered far worse than the concussion he is currently nursing.

It is challenging too to reconcile Daly's three-week ban with the same penalty imposed on Calum Clark, a flanker with a lengthy rap sheet, who dropped his elbow into the face of Donncha O'Callaghan as he lay at the base of a ruck.

Should Senatore's relative good fortune mitigate Daly's punishment?

Hugo Southwell scores for Scotland
Hugo Southwell won 59 caps for Scotland between 2004 and 2011

"It may be luck, but it's not something I've made up, it's something I am there to judge," said Southwell.

"One thing we've spoken about is if you're going to base someone's ban, which is costly to both player and club or country, purely on the injury, you need to get an accurate report from the team doctor.

"That's where there's a bit of a grey area - potentially there needs to be an independent doctor to review, and if possible it needs to be done straight away, if you know there's going to be a citing from it.

"Everything is determined by that report in terms of length of ban. If we're keeping it as we are, that report has to be very accurate."

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