Paterson puts best foot forward again

Scotland's linchpin has not missed a kick in the past two Six Nations. As he nears his 100th cap, he tells Simon Turnbull that this side can run in tries too
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The Independent Online

A funny thing happened at the Stade de France on the evening of 17 March, 2007. It was the final match of the Six Nations Championship and Euan Murray had just deposited the ball over the try-line in the left-hand corner. Chris Paterson stepped forward to take the conversion and struck his kick against a post. The ball dropped wide.

It was a moment to remember. Paterson has not missed a kick at goal in the Six Nations since. He landed 15 out of 15 in the 2008 season and 16 out of 16 in 2009. He also struck 17 out of 17 in the 2007 World Cup. Which is one reason why Marc Lièvremont will send out his side under strict orders to be on their best behaviour at breakdown time at Murrayfield tomorrow. It does not take a Pythagorean brain to work out the odds of any transgression within a range of 40 metres being punishable by Paterson's lethal right boot.

The Edinburgh captain is back in Scotland's starting line-up, at full-back, for their 2010 Six Nations opener against the French, having shown – in the words of head coach Andy Robinson – that he is "back to his best" with his all-round game. One way or another, it promises to be a momentous championship for Paterson. Already Scotland's most capped player, tomorrow he makes his 99th appearance for his country. Barring injury and a loss of form, he stands to join the select band of international centurions when Scotland play Wales in Cardiff a week today.

It was in 1999 that Paterson made his Scotland debut, against Spain in the World Cup at Murrayfield, and in 2000 that he played his first Six Nations game – against France, again on home soil. In 12 seasons he has missed only five games for his country and has played in three World Cups. And yet at the age of 31 he remains as hungry for success as he was when he stood on the Murrayfield terraces as an 11-year-old watching his heroes win the 1990 Grand Slam decider against England – and when he was knocking on the door of the senior Scotland squad in 1999, the year of last Scottish championship triumph.

"I was lucky enough to be at the Grand Slam game in 1990 and I was so happy," Paterson reflected. "But there was a bit of jealousy there too. Even at that age, I was thinking, 'I want to do that.' In 1999 I was in the Under-21 team and I toured with the senior squad to South Africa at the end of the Six Nations. There was a wee bit of jealousy then too.

"It's been the same watching Wales and Ireland in recent years. I've played against those guys and I've known them for years, and I'm jealous. It's not the adulation, or the glory I want. It's just the experience – to go into that last match with a Grand Slam at stake, or the championship, or the Triple Crown."

Sadly for Paterson and the Scots, in recent times it has usually been the Wooden Spoon that has been on the line in the final match. Their Achilles' heel has been a lack of potency with ball in hand – just 61 tries in the last 10 years of the championship, compared to England's 168, France's 138, Ireland's 130, Wales' 108 and Italy's 62. Their chief points source has been the golden boot of Paterson, who has been stuck on 22 tries, two short of the all-time Scottish record, since the World Cup pool match against Romania in September 2007.

"In the years I've been involved, we've never said, 'Right, hopefully we'll kick a few penalties and win'," he said. "We've always gone out to score tries but the execution has let us down. I'm on 22 tries – you stay 'stuck on 22' but I'm pretty lucky to get that number – and, hopefully, I can add to that. You almost envy those teams who run in a lot of tries, but we can do that. We just haven't proved it."

Spotlight on Scotland

*Key men

Back-row forwards John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie, two scavengers in the grand Scots tradition.

*One to watch

The experienced British and Irish Lions tight-head prop Euan Murray, provided it's not a Sunday.

*Can they win it?

No, but they undoubtedly have it in them to mess things up for others.