Settled Cummings pumped up for massive match
The journey of second-row Scott Cummings into the international arena - from missing out on the wider training squad for RWC2019 to making the final 31 and earning ten-going-on-11 consecutive Test caps - has been a remarkable one.
At the end of May last year, his (and Kyle Steyn's) late call-up took the wider world cup training squad from 42 to 44, with an unlucky 13 set to miss out.
His late selection wasn’t completely without context of course.
The two-metre tall, 116kg lock had already showcased his dynamism in attack with aplomb as a stand-out carrier in Glasgow Warriors’ Guinness PRO14 semi-final and Grand Final at Celtic Park.
As a latecomer to the group, he certainly had his work cut out, but soon emerged with credit from Scotland’s opening Summer Test defeat to France in Nice, when he came off the bench to make his debut.
He would go on to be one of the few players to feature in all four warm-up matches and ultimately earn selection in the final 31-man group for the Japan tournament, where – again – he would feature in every game.
That theme has continued in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations tournament, with starts against Ireland, England, and his reinstatement in the boiler house for this Saturday’s Test in the Eternal City.
Come kick-off on Saturday he’ll have racked up an impressive 11 Test caps as an ever present since his debut just six months ago.
Reflecting on the year past, he said:
“Going into the world cup I did feel like the new guy but, now I’ve started the first two games, I feel good and embedded in the squad." Scotland second-row Scott Cummings
“Especially coming into this camp, the mood is great and the environment’s really good.
“We’ve learned a lot from the world cup and the last couple of weeks and feel we’re on the right track to make some big improvements in the next few weeks.
“There were quite a few young guys at the world cup and we’ve now got that experience. It’s something you learn from and it gives you confidence."
Growing into the role
The plan - he admits - for this Six Nations was to challenge to start from a place on bench, so to leapfrog a step in that process with the three straight starts has been a huge boost to the Glasgow man.
“It’s been 10 games now that I’ve been involved in and I’m really chuffed with that," he added.
"I’m just looking to push on as much as I can. It’ll be a massive game that we’re ready for.”
With clubmate Jonny Gray out with a hand injury, Cummings was named in an athletic pairing with Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis for the first time since they excelled against Russia in Kobe four months ago.
They have partnered in parts outwith that start but this is certainly the most high-profile opportunity for this duo.
“It doesn’t change too much in the squad,” was his typically laid back assessment.
“We’ve a lot of good second-rows, especially with Sam Skinner recently coming back into the mix, giving us a boost with Jonny going out.”
Scotland’s lineout has been in decent shape this past year. Maul defence is something in which they take great pride, as well as a 96% success rate in the recent world cup where they won 54 and lost just two.
However, a couple of costly errors deep in Irish territory and hellish conditions for lineout ball anywhere beyond the middle has, on the face of it, undermined a lot of good work.
Cummings thinks the fine weather and dry ball in Rome this weekend is the perfect tonic to re-establish some control in that vital area.
“It [England] was a tough game and not our best day in the office by any means.
“It’s something we’ve worked on a lot this week. We’ve changed a couple of processes that didn’t work for us to make sure we’re better prepared against Italy.
“The weather didn’t help but as a team we felt we could have maybe prepped that a bit better in light of the weather coming in, with a few more wet weather options and things like that.
“They [Italy] have got good second-rows. Dean Budd came on in the second-half against France and played really well and there’s others in there who are really big threats, especially lineout-wise with Abraham Steyn in the back-row, who controls it really well.
“They’ve got a big physical pack – you look at the size of their back-rows for example – which means it’ll be a tough, physical game, especially for the forwards.”
The Stadio Olimpico has now cemented its place as the home of Italian rugby, with Cummings just 13-years-old when Scotland last played at the old Flaminio ground, for which many fans still hold a great fondness.
Where the Olimpico – host to the 1960 Summer Olympic Games and the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final – stands apart is its sheer scale, cramming more than double the number of fervent fans into its 70,000-seater bowl, with ‘silencing the crowd’ an oft-cited starting point for any visiting team.
“That’s probably the plan every week – get on top at the start,” acknowledged Cummings.
“We want to start fast and did that against Ireland. I thought we were really good in the first ten minutes and got into our shape really well, so that’s definitely the plan for this weekend.
“I can take confidence from the fact I’ve played everyone before in the PRO14 in club games. It’s the same guys in a different jersey, playing a slightly different way.
“That obviously simplifies it a bit but, when you look at Italy, I’ve played most of these guys before so we know what’s expected of them.
“They have a new style under the new coach [Franco Smith], they’ve definitely got a new identity and we’re excited to play because we play similar to them.
“I’m excited to get over there, I’m really pumped up for the game. It’s going to be massive.” Scotland second-row Scott Cummings