NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, 29 Sept – Instead of getting ready to face Harlequins for London Irish on Friday night, Blair Cowan was on Tyneside on Tuesday morning preparing to push for a place in Scotland’s crucial Pool B encounter with South Africa at St James’ Park on Saturday.
Four weeks after being forced to swallow the disappointment of missing a place in Scotland’s 31-man Rugby World Cup party, the 29-year-old openside flanker has been called into Vern Cotter’s squad as an injury replacement for lock Grant Gilchrist, who was withdrawn on Monday because of a groin problem.
Cowan (pictured) was informed of the call up on Monday night and boarded an early flight to join the rest of the squad for their first day of training at their Newcastle base, the Royal Grammar School.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” the New Zealand-born back rower said. “I haven’t seen the whole squad yet but I’ve seen a few of the boys and it caught me off guard with how stoked I was to see them. It was a bit emotional.
“You grow up as a kid watching World Cups, and even at the peak of your career watching other World Cups. To be a part of it – I’m pretty rapt.
“I was just chilling at home after training when I got the call. You would have seen a dust shadow of me getting off the couch to pack my bags.
“I was about to start for London Irish on Friday night, so my head was in that game, getting myself sorted physically and mentally for playing a game of rugby. So when I got the call-up, I was ready to play.
“I’m up here to do whatever they need to push us forward. They know what I can do. I just want to come here and be a positive influence. I know there’ll be some banged bodies so I just want to bring some positive energy.”
Cowan was a controversial omission from the original squad, missing a back-row place as head coach Cotter plumped for just one specialist openside flanker in fellow New Zealand native John Hardie, who arrived in Scotland only in July.
Cowan had been Scotland’s first-choice in the number seven role throughout the autumn internationals and Six Nations championship last season.
“It was devastating,” he admitted, “but we all knew how close the seven role was. It was probably the tightest position in the whole squad. It really was the fine margins we knew it was going to come down to in the end.
“I was hugely aware that there was a big possibility (of missing selection) because of the performances the other boys were putting out there. Look, I’ve been through it all. My career hasn’t been the smoothest. It’s been a rollercoaster so I know the peaks and troughs you can go through.”
Cowan’s belated selection gives Cotter much-needed cover for Hardie, who produced an outstanding try-scoring performance in Scotland’s opening 45-10 victory against Japan but missed Sunday’s 39-16 win over the USA in Leeds because of a head knock. Blindside flanker Ryan Wilson started on the openisde at Elland Road and at one point the Scots were so short of options they had to use hooker Fraser Brown in the back row.
“I was really impressed with John against Japan,” Cowan said. “He was very physical. He got through a truckload of work. I got on very well with him in the pre-season and when I left I wanted him to do all the best. I think he basically proved why he had been put in there in the first game.
“We’ve got slightly different games so, it won’t be about trying to outdo what he does because what he does his thing and he’s very good at it. It will be trying to look at what I do.”