Given that the Italian rugby battalion will be heading to Scotland on Saturday intent on succeeding where Hadrian's Roman legions historically failed – in the deliverance of a knockout blow to Caledonia – it is probably just as well that Scott Johnson has called up a reinforcement who considers the perfect feeling on a rugby field to be the raw-boned thrill of "smashing someone" rather than the glory of scoring a try.
On water-carrying squad duty in the 38-18 defeat at Twickenham last Saturday, Rob Harley has been promoted to the starting XV as a replacement for the injured Alasdair Strokosch, nominally at blindside flanker but – in the absence of a specialist No 7 – with a remit to interchange with Kelly Brown in the coverage of openside duties. "Rob has shown his ability to do the seven role at Glasgow," Johnson, Scotland's interim head coach, said of the flame-haired 22-year-old. "He's been abrasive at times, and when you've got a red head you've got a right to be angry, haven't you? He provides a bit of starch that I'm happy to have."
That starch will doubtless be needed against an Italy team who will be scenting Caldenonian blood on the back of their Roman conquest against the French last Sunday. Harley has already made his mark for his country. His debut was as a replacement against Samoa in Apia in June when he clinched the 17-16 victory with a last-minute try.
"As great as it is to score a try, I think if you smash someone like Jason White used to do that is the perfect feeling on a rugby pitch," Harley said after being named as one of two changes (Ross Ford comes in for Dougie Hall at hooker) by Johnson. "I used to love watching Jason White play for Scotland. He would just go out there and smash people in the tackle."
Indeed he would. At the peak of his swashbuckling powers, as captain and blindside flanker in the Scotland team that won three out of five matches in the 2006 Six Nations, White was memorably described by his back row colleague Simon Taylor as "the kind of brute you can imagine clearing skulls with a battle axe, or one of those spiky balls on a chain, in days of yore".
Harley, it seems, is cut from the same rugged tartan cloth. "I have always enjoyed the physical side of rugby," he said. "That is what it is all about. You want to come in and smash a few people."Reuse content