Mike Blair shrugged off concerns over Scotland's controversial team selection for Sunday's RBS 6 Nations opener against Wales by insisting he has not noticed any dip in public excitement about the match.
Head coach Frank Hadden’s decisions to play Simon Webster ahead of in-form winger Thom Evans, pick Hugo Southwell at full-back ahead of record point scorer Chris Paterson, and choose Allister Hogg at blindside flanker ahead of the impressive Al Strokosch, has been a hot topic for discussion since Wednesday’s announcement.
But Scotland captain Blair reckons enthusiasm for the tournament is just as intense as it was before the start of last season’s competition.
He insists his side are better equipped to deal with the burden of expectation which they will carry into Sunday’s match.
Last year, Scotland started the tournament with high hopes of contending for the RBS 6 Nations crown, but after losing 27-6 at home to an experimental French side, they struggled to find form and confidence.
They finished the tournament on a real low by losing in Italy and only managed to avoid the wooden spoon on points difference.
Edinburgh scrum-half Blair said: “We are in a similar situation to the one we were in last year, but we’ve got a bit more experience in the squad now.
“Our performances in the autumn show that we have moved on from where we were in the last Six Nations.”
He added of Sunday’s opponents, who won the Grand Slam last year: “We are under no illusions as to how good Wales will be. For the last 18 months, they have played consistently well in every game they have played and that is why they are where they are.
“But we are expecting to put in a very consistent performance of our own and to put a lot of pressure on them.
“Wales like to play a lot of rugby. They are one of the better teams to watch in the championship.
“They’ve got a pack that works incredibly hard, while in the backline they have some potent attackers and strong finishers, so they are a very good all-round team and that’s why they are favourites for the tournament.
“To get the better of them, the first thing we’ve got to do is maintain consistency in our performance - which is something that hasn’t been there in the last couple of years, when you’ve not known which Scotland team was going to emerge from the tunnel.
“At the start of the game, we are going to have to put pressure on them and make them play some rugby.
“They’ll want to move the ball around, so if we can keep them in good positions on the pitch then they’ll start forcing things.
“And when they make mistakes, we have to make sure we capitalise.”