Every player and every fan looks forward to 6 Nations time. As a player I just hope I’m involved so I can play in the amazing atmosphere and represent my country. My first memories of the 6 Nations are watching the games down at the rugby club in Cambuslang. We occasionally got the chance to go to Murrayfield as a mini rugby team and watch our heros play. It’s strange to think that I’m now in the privileged position of being able to play on the big stage.
The 6 nations as a player is pretty full on. We stay in a hotel every week and we’re focused on rugby almost 24/7. Our downtime in the evening is a good chance to relax by playing table tennis or the X-box/PS3. Training is always intense and has a focus on how the team wants to play or defend come the weekend.
Our first game was against Ireland over in Dublin. This was my first experience of playing for Scotland at the new Aviva stadium and staying right in the town centre gave me my first chance to explore the city centre. The new stadium is something else! The pitch was perfect and thankfully on game day the weather was perfect as well. It was always going to be a tough challenge against the Irish but I thought we played the better rugby in the first half. Johnny Sexton however showed his experience and class by squeezing the life out of any momentum we were creating. His tactical kicking was on the money and on reflection I can learn a lot from his performance.
The England week was always going to be special. A week where the media coverage always goes up a level and for any Scotsman, a week to get patriotic about our country. Unfortunately there are not a lot of positives to say about the game and I have never felt pressure like it. Having to chase the game but also having the coaches’ instructions in the back of my mind. Afterwards was the lowest point of my career. The feeling of letting down the nation was horrible. It was a time when even going out of the house I wanted to shy away from anyone I saw. I was glad we had a weekend off after the England match because mentally it would have been hard to play so soon after.
Italy quickly became our next focus. It was always going to be a tough match going over to Rome to play the Italians with their strong home record. Again, it was my first experience of Rome which is a lovely city. The game was a close contest with both teams taking turns to lead. Then came the best moment of my career so far. The kind of thing that I dreamt about as a kid. A drop kick to win the match for my country. If I was to go back in time to the moment just before the kick, I think I would be a lot more nervous. Thinking back to what was said in the media after the England game and of how important it was to get the win. At the time I knew exactly what I had to do – get my ball drop right, keep my head down and get my body and leg through the ball. Thankfully that thinking paid off, the ball went sailing through the posts and we won the game! We put a smile back on the face of Scottish rugby and I had the biggest smile on my face. The emotion and the celebrations at the final whistle will live with me forever. I wouldn’t say I’ve come back to Glasgow swaggering down the street but I feel proud that I’ve done something so special in a Scotland jersey.
That leads me to my final thought – that feeling of being proud and of filling the jersey. Those same amazing feelings at the full time whistle will drive myself and the rest of the squad to try and replicate the result against France. Playing at Murrayfield in front of a sold out crowd will only drive the boys on to have the same success, especially after the England performance.