Den­ton and Mait­land out of Paris match

Meet the flanker who had only played for New Zealand Un­der-20s be­fore com­pa­triot Cot­ter’s call

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - ALAS­DAIR REID

SCOT­LAND’S prepa­ra­tions for the RBS 6 Na­tions Cham­pi­onship have been dealt a dou­ble blow by the news that Ed­in­burgh No.8 Dave Den­ton and Glas­gow wing/full-back Sean Mait­land have been ruled out of their tour­na­ment opener against France in 10 days’ time.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions re­vealed Den­ton had suf­fered a calf mus­cle tear dur­ing Ed­in­burgh’s 38-20 win over Bordeaux-Be­gles on Fri­day, while Mait­land dam­aged a shoul­der in Glas­gow’s 20-15 Cham­pi­ons Cup loss to Bath two days later.

Both play­ers un­der­went scans on Mon­day that showed that they would not be fit in time for the match in Paris. The pair have now left the Scot­land train­ing base to con­tinue re­hab pro­grammes at their clubs and an of­fi­cial bulletin sug­gested that they could re­turn for later Six Na­tions games.

It is not clear whether na­tional coach Vern Cot­ter will seek to re­place Den­ton and Mait­land as he is known to pre­fer a small squad. Cas­tres No.8 John­nie Beat­tie had al­ready been added to the squad, but op­tions in that area have been re­duced as Adam Ashe, who played in the au­tumn matches, is side­lined by a neck in­jury.

Richie Ver­non made an im­pres­sive re­turn to his old berth with Glas­gow on Sun­day and Cot­ter could ask him to come in. Glas­gow War­rior Ryan Wilson has been sus­pended by the SRU after the player was yes­ter­day found guilty of as­sault and is out of con­tention.

The ver­sa­til­ity of Scot­land’s backs means the case for call­ing up a re­place­ment for Mait­land is less press­ing.

HAV­ING just ar­rived from Dunedin, a city that could be mis­taken for a scale model of Ed­in­burgh, Hugh Blake was never go­ing to have any prob­lems with the Scot­tish weather. Yet things have been a lit­tle chilly on other fronts since the 22-year-old New Zealan­der pitched up in th­ese parts late last year. And pos­i­tively icy since he was fast-tracked into the Scot­land squad by coach – and fel­low Kiwi – Vern Cot­ter last week.

Well, in some quarters at least. For while ex-Scot­land prop Peter Wright re­flected the views of many in call­ing Blake’s se­lec­tion “a slap in the face” for more es­tab­lished play­ers, the most common re­ac­tion was sheer puz­zle­ment.

“Can any­one tell me any­thing about Hugh Blake please?” came the almost plain­tive tweet from Andy Ni­col.

It is not the first time that rugby’s chat­ter­ing classes have been blind­sided by a Scot­land coach. Andy Robin­son was so fond of pulling rab­bits from the se­lec­tion hat that his squad an­nounce­ments were not so much a Who’s Who of Scot­tish rugby as a Who’s He? Tom Heath­cote, Blair Cowan, Kieran Low and, ahem, Steven Shin­gler were all picked be­fore they had fig­ured on any me­dia radar screens.

In Blake’s case, the cause of en­light­en­ment was ad­vanced not one bit when the SRU sent a pla­toon of press of­fi­cers to Gold­e­nacre, where he was turn­ing out for Mel­rose against He­riot’s on Satur­day, to en­sure that the fel­low was not in­con­ve­nienced by pesky jour­nal­ists hav­ing the temer­ity to ask him a ques­tion or two. For that op­por­tu­nity we had to wait a few days un­til the for­mer Otago flanker had his of­fi­cial un­veil­ing at the na­tional squad’s train­ing base near Mother­well.

It would be won­der­ful to re­port that this in­ter­na­tional man of mys­tery an­nounced him­self to the gath­ered press pack by crash­ing into the room in a flow­ing cape, un­der­pants out­side his tights, and with the brazen an­nounce­ment that he was ready to take over from Richie McCaw as the best rugby player on earth. The pro­saic re­al­ity was that he made his en­trance in more sub­dued fash­ion, almost sheep­ish in fact, with a round of shy hand­shakes and quiet hel­los.

Cot­ter had sug­gested that Blake was a big bloke, but the ac­cu­racy of that was hard to judge as he was tightly zipped up in his branded Scot­land clob­ber. His min­ders had clearly en­sured that his mouth was well fas­tened as well, so as­sid­u­ously did he avoid to the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing his call-up.

He seemed sin­cere enough when he talked of his Scot­tish her­itage – passed down from his Glaswe­gian grand­par­ents, Hugh and Mau­reen Blake – and his plea­sure in meet­ing up with re­la­tions here. He also spoke with con­vic­tion about his long-held am­bi­tion to play for Scot­land, although given his ori­gins it is prob­a­bly safe to as­sume that he nur­tured dreams about play­ing in a black shirt as well.

“There is a lot of Scot­tish­ness in the fam­ily es­pe­cially at fam­ily oc­ca­sions like Christ­mas,” Blake ex­plained. Fair enough, but there is quite a lot of Scot­tish­ness in other play­ers, and it is more of a year-round thing. Blake has raised hack­les through­out the game, not just be­cause of his swift el­e­va­tion, but be­cause his ar­rival in the squad means there is no place for other open­sides such as John Bar­clay and Roddy Grant, whose abil­i­ties are mat­ters of record rather than spec­u­la­tion.

Blake re­called that the ini­tial ap­proach about mov­ing to Scot­land came from SRU ‘su­per-scout’ Sean Li­neen. Soon after sign­ing his trial con­tract with Ed­in­burgh he had some con­ver­sa­tions with Vern Cot­ter – “and they were re­ally pos­i­tive” – which is more of a wel­come than most tri­al­ists can ex­pect, es­pe­cially when the rugby they have played for their new club is half-an-hour in an A game.

What, though, of the re­cep­tion he has been given by his Scot­land squad­mates? “Ev­ery­one has been pretty good,” Blake replied. “Ob­vi­ously there have been a few head­lines but that was al­ways go­ing to hap­pen.

“I have only been picked in the squad. I haven’t been picked in the team so I want to prove to the coaches first that I have what it takes and then prove it to the fans and the Scot­tish peo­ple.”

Aside from the cli­mate and cul­tural con­nec­tions to Scot­land, Dunedin is also home to such char­ac­ters as John Leslie and Bren­dan Laney, both of whom made the same move that Blake has now un­der­taken, with equally mixed re­cep­tions.

Yet while Laney and Leslie were barely five min­utes off the plane from Auck­land be­fore they were turn­ing out at Mur­ray­field, they did not en­lighten Blake on the more con­tro­ver­sial as­pects of their ex­pe­ri­ences.

“They talked about the great times they had with Scot­land,” he said. “I heard about the grief Bren­dan got but he didn’t tell me about it him­self.”

Yet com­par­isons with those pre­de­ces­sors can only be taken so far. The harsh fact is that Laney and Leslie – and a host of other so-called Kilted Ki­wis – had al­ready reached a far higher level in the game than Blake has be­fore they made the move from New Zealand to Scot­land. Blake played for the New Zealand un­der-20 side that reached the fi­nal of the 2012 ju­nior world cham­pi­onships, but he could not make the break­through from the Otago provin­cial side to the High­landers Su­per Rugby fran­chise.

Still, Cot­ter is a pretty good judge of play­ers, and back-row play­ers es­pe­cially. If Blake does make it all the way to Test rugby then the cur­rent disquiet will evap­o­rate. Un­til then, though, the jury will be out.

I have only been picked in the squad. I haven’t been picked in the team so I want to prove to the coaches first that I have what it takes

SHOCK PICK: Cot­ter’s in­clu­sion of largely un­her­alded Kiwi Hugh Blake in the Scot­land Six Na­tions squad stunned many ob­servers

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