You could keep Britney Spears in caffeine for a month with the sheer volume of coffee spat out in shock and indignation by Scotland supporters scanning the lunchtime bulletins in search of Vern Cotter’s Six Nations squad announcement.
‘Hugh Blake?!’ they spluttered, ‘Ben Toolis?! There must be some mistake.’
The autumn omissions of the fans’ favourites, the old guard – who really aren’t terribly old – were met with raised eyebrows rather than sullen gripes by most. November is a time for rotation, the trial of new blood in the Test arena.
We could manage without Kelly Brown, John Barclay and their vintage. They’d be back in February; around for the serious stuff.
Only they aren’t. And the likelihood of either back-row, Chris Cusiter, or even Johnnie Beattie claiming a spot in Cotter’s World Cup party grows slimmer by the match.
This is not a coach who shirks tough decisions. Andy Robinson’s selections took on a jaded and ineffectual feel near the end of his reign. Scott Johnson produced plenty of head-scratchers. Cotter has a definitive plan for Scotland, and so far, that plan is working.
For most Scots, 22-year-old Blake is an unknown quantity – footage of his provincial play in New Zealand is certainly encouraging, but isn’t it always?
Joining Edinburgh from the Highlanders in December, with Scottish heritage and undoubted pedigree as a New Zealand Under-20 international, he was identified as a Test prospect, though injuries to Chris Fusaro and Tyrone Holmes, coupled with the retirement of Ross Rennie may well have accelerated his inclusion in a training squad.
Blake is raw. He has yet to play a minute in black and red, let alone navy blue. But one can only deduce he must be very good indeed – or at least have the potential to be – to be deemed a better option than Barclay, who remains relentlessly excellent for the Scarlets.
‘He’s a very good openside flanker and offers us genuine speed to the breakdown. He’s a very good offloader and can give us continuity to our game,’ ESPNScrum quotes Cotter as saying of Blake.
‘He’s a very skillful player and generally gets two to three turnovers a game. If we can change the course of a match positively by winning the ball and making destructive tackles then that is great.
‘Hugh offers us a profile that we don’t have. He brings that specialist seven role over from New Zealand and an ability to change games. He’s played against Richie McCaw and the best players in the world – and he’s available for Scotland.’
Remove the rookie’s moniker and the reference to New Zealand – who else might he have been describing?
The Kiwi has not lost his marbles. As much as we might regard Brown, Barclay and co with great fondness, their exclusion – as bizarre as it may appear – does not in the blink of an eye render Cotter a poor coach.
Adam Ashe found himself facing a baptism of fire in South Africa in June, with no professional starts under his belt. He has since flourished, excelling from number eight for Glasgow Warriors and for Scotland against Argentina and New Zealand.
Blair Cowan is older, but he too soon justified his selection that came seemingly out of the blue.
Blake is another part of Cotter’s blueprint for a refreshed, new-look Scotland – the established figures deemed surplus to requirements are cast aside without mercy. Poring over the quotes and soundbites from this afternoon’s press conference, the words ‘develop’ and ‘developing’ are conspicuous constants.
The key question then is this: is a Six Nations Championship, climaxing as it does just five months before this year’s all-important World Cup really the time for development?
Should it not instead mark a period for fine-tuning, tweaking line-ups and tactics and combinations until the best possible XV has been pinpointed and played to grow comfortable in each other’s company?
The theme continues. Tim Swinson, outshone over the past two seasons only by Jonny Gray in the second-row, is ousted in favour of Toolis – a younger, more athletic model in a similar all-action mould.
Cusiter, seventy caps to his name, is out too – 21-year-old Sam Hidalgo-Clyne earns a call-up in his place – while Dave Denton can consider himself fortunate Ashe is presently sidelined.
In his short tenure at the Murrayfield helm, Cotter has made his mark upon Scotland indelibly. His relative success to date should not cloud our critical eye, but only the ferocious tournament ahead will put his vision of development to the test, and judge with aplomb whether Scotland’s tentative revival under his tutelage bears substance.