I left the last blog just before our first game of the tour against Australia in Newcastle.
The team run the day before went really well for the boys as the plays were sharp and everyone seemed in good spirits for the game. Conditions that day were bright and sunny although we had heard the weather report for the next day wasn’t quite so warm and humid.
This turned out to be accurate, as a couple of hours before the game the heavens opened and we knew it was going to be a battle of attrition battle to get the win.
With strong wind behind us first half we dominated possession and territory but unfortunately we couldn’t quite convert our pressure into points as much as we’d like going in at the half with a 6-3 lead. What followed in the second was a tremendous defensive effort by the team, keeping the Aussies to just three points in the second half and with a couple of minutes left the pack, led by first cap Ryan Grant and Euan Murray, came through with a couple of brilliant scrums that gave Greig Laidlaw a chance to win it which he tucked away confidently.
Unfortunately the game will probably be remembered better for the over-exuberant head to head high-five celebrations of Joe Ansbro and Ally Strokosch.
This was a huge win for Scottish rugby and only the second time we’ve beaten Australia in Australia so there was a great feeling in camp helped more by seeing our old friend Dan Parks in the changing room after the game to take part in the celebrations.
The next day we were back to Manly for a few days before we flew to Fiji on the Saturday. Thursday we had weights and non 22 and subs had fitness games in the afternoon followed by a reception in the evening. This was a chance for many of the ex-pat Scots in the area to come to meet the team. This was a great evening which was finished by a very good ‘boot’ story by Rob Harley and some songs/comedy routine from our very own Euan Murray.
The next day we were back to the rugby field in prep for Fiji before travelling on the Saturday. It was tough saying our goodbyes to Manly. With our hotel right on the beach and town centre just down the road it was a great place to be in Australia but the guys were excited about heading to Fiji for what would be many of the squad’s first trip there.
After a three hour flight we were greeted by a small band in the airport and heavy rain outside which was a bit of a surprise. We transferred to our hotel near the airport and settled in for rugby the next day.
We trained at 2 in the afternoon to experience the conditions as they would be during the game on Saturday. At that time it is both hot and humid so hopefully we will acclimatise by the time the game comes around on Saturday.
Monday we were given the day off and our management had arranged for us to get a boat over to nearby Malolo Island. Malolo Island was a tropical paradise and was probably more like the Fiji I had imagined. We were greeted with a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony where we got a chance to try Fiji’s ancient drink, kava. To be honest it tasted a bit like what I would imagine dirty dish water to taste like but it was nice to get an authentic taste of Fijian culture. On Malolo the squad also got a chance to snorkel, banana boat, kayak or just lie by the beach and unsurprisingly the guys were disappointed to be heading back that evening in preparation for training the next day.
After the relaxed day on Monday, we were back into the swing of things on Tuesday at training as we prepare for the game. We know that we face a huge challenge again on Saturday. The last 6 Nations team to come was Italy and they were beaten both times they toured here. Scotland’s last tour here in 1998 ended in defeat too. The Fijian people have been so welcoming and friendly but everywhere we go we are reminded of their delight to have a 6 Nations team here again and they will be going all out for what would be a huge scalp for this tiny nation.
We plan to enjoy the rest of our stay here but do all that we can to stop that happening.
Richie Vernon is a current Scotland International playing in positions across the back row. He currently plays his club rugby for Sale Sharks.