Why Godman is the man to give Hadden the perfect kickstart

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The Independent Online

Duncan Hodge was Scotland's hero that day, scoring all of their points in a 19-13 victory, and it just so happened that the veteran stand-off was among the 30 players going through their paces on Wednesday - called across from the group of Edinburgh Gunners training on an adjacent pitch to stand in as an emergency full-back in a green-bibbed team that featured his young club rival, and Scotland hopeful, at outside-half.

At Murrayfield a fortnight ago Phil Godman staked a strong claim to the Scotland No 10 jersey with a man-of-the-match performance in Edinburgh's Heineken Cup win against Wasps. The 23-year-old Gunner certainly made a favourable impression on Scotland's new head coach. "It was a big game and Phil responded to the size of the occasion," Hadden said. "For me, it was a significant moment in Phil's development - to outplay a player of the calibre of Alex King."

Whether Godman will get the chance to outplay Felipe Conte-pomi from the start at Murrayfield next Saturday remains to be seen. The visit of the Argentinian Pumas, with their predatory pack and their wily half-backs, Contepomi and Agustin Pichot, promises to be a big test in every respect for Hadden. As caretaker coach at the end of last season, he swept Scotland to victories against the Barbarians in Aberdeen and against Romania in Bucharest, but the opening match of Scotland's autumn series is his first chance to stamp his mark on the job as a permanent appointee.

With matches to follow against Samoa, who have never beaten Scotland, and New Zealand, who have never lost to the Scots, it could be the making of the Hadden era. A victory would represent tangible progress after the backward steps taken under Matt Williams' ill-fated reign as coach. Scotland have lost their past four games against the Pumas. They won just once at Murrayfield in two years under Williams.

In the circumstances, it seems likely that Hadden will plump for the greater experience of Dan Parks, unloved though the native Australian continues to be among Scottish rugby folk following his dreadful Six Nations' campaign last spring. Nevertheless, with Gregor Townsend injured and Gordon Ross out of form, the emerging Godman can expect to multiply his own limited international experience over the next three weekends.

"It feels a bit weird saying, 'I have one cap'," he said, reflecting on his debut appearance as a late - very late - replacement for Parks in Bucharest in June. "I played two minutes. I'd certainly like to get more game-time, especially at Murrayfield. But we'll wait and see. It's great just to be involved. This is my first real intense period of training with Scotland and it's exciting to be part of it."

It might have been different. As a talented midfield footballer with Tynecastle Boys Club, Godman had the chance to follow in the footsteps of his uncle, Lindsay Muir, a centre-half with Hibernian in the 1970s. He was offered schoolboy terms by Hibs and St Johnstone but chose instead to concentrate on following Hodge as a fly-half at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh - groomed by Hadden, who was head of PE at the time, and who signed him for Edinburgh last year.

"Frank coached me at school and it's a bit strange having him as coach with the national squad now," Godman said. "But he's been great. All the guys are really enthusiastic about him being coach. He's been a big influence on me."

Godman has also benefited from the guidance of two world- class fly-halves. In three years as a Newcastle Falcon, he played under Rob Andrew and as understudy to Jonny Wilkinson. "It was a great learning experience at Newcastle," he said. "Even the academy there was superb. It was an opportunity I might have made more of, but it got to the stage where I wasn't getting much game-time, with Jonny and Dave Walder there. I was offered the opportunity to come back up to Edinburgh and it's great to be here."

It would be even better for Godman if he got to run on at Murrayfield in the navy-blue shirt next Saturday. "It would be pretty special to play for Scotland here," he mused. "I used to come and watch when I was younger, but I wasn't here when Hodgy scored all those points against England. I watched it on television. It was too cold and wet to be out that day."

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