Blair Cowan: Scotland are on the up under Vern Cotter

London Irish flanker reveals the Dark Blues' rapid rise is as much about the players than their new head coach

When the Scotland and New Zealand sides took the field on Saturday, you may not have noticed that there were in fact 17 players on the BT Murrayfield pitch who could have represented the All Blacks.

Glasgow Warriors winger Sean Maitland was already a fully-capped international before Cotter pitched up in Scotland this summer, but the former Clermont Auvergne coach handed a first cap to Wellington-born Blair Cowan on the summer tour of the Americas and South Africa.

Just as Cotter was making his own Scottish bow, taking charge for the first time against the USA in Houston, Cowan became Scotland’s 1054th international player—the London Irish flanker qualifying for Scotland through his Dunoon-born mother.

Five international caps later, and after almost defeating the All Blacks for the first time in their history, Cowan speaks highly of the impact Cotter, also a Kiwi, is having on the squad since finally taking charge earlier this year after Andy Robinson’s departure two years ago – and there is a genuine belief that Scotland are starting to show their potential on the world stage.

“Vern has being a huge influence on the squad, but I think a lot of it is driven internally,” Cowan said.

“I do think we are on the up.”

With a slight smile on his face he heaps great praise and acknowledgment on the Gray brothers, Richie and Jonny, who have played the last two matches together in the second row, and how efficiently they run Scotland’s lineouts, referring to them as the “Sons of Scotland”, a slight nod to a well-known Hollywood blockbuster, with a Scottish twist.

“I think there is a lot of boys putting their hands up and taking control,” he added.

“For instance the Gray brothers with the lineout.

“We have an exceptional captain in Greig [Laidlaw], who says all the right things at the right time.”

Cowan and his Scottish team-mates are making waves in the rugby world right now, winning four of their last six matches, and gaining plenty of plaudits, but the 28-year-old knows the team must keep focused ahead of the potential banana skin coming up against Tonga on the artificial pitch at Kilmarnock FC’s Rugby Park.

The Pacific Islanders’ threat will be all too familiar to those in the squad, who remain from the 2012 shock 21-15 defeat in Aberdeen—their first win over one of the Tier 1 nations on European soil.

Laidlaw, Stuart Hogg, Sean Lamont, Euan Murray and Richie Gray were among those in the starting XV for that defeat which led to Robinson’s departure a day later.

After the best part of two years in limbo without a permanent head coach, the Tonga match—Cotter’s seventh in charge—is another chance for the Scots to show how far they’ve come against a team that has also improved since their last meeting, and Cowan admits they are taking nothing for granted against the Ikale Tahi who, like New Zealand, begin the match with a war dance— the Sipi Tau.

“I think this is the biggest threat out of all the games,” Cowan said

“We are building something here with Vern and we are on the up, but that can dismantle as fast as it is built up.

“We are going to take this game very serious. We’ll come back during the week and look at the negatives, keep doing the positives, and look towards Tonga.”

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