FOR every player who has a dream debut, there is one who has an ignominious start to his international career by taking part in one of those games that will be recalled as a nadir in the national team’s fortunes.
Back in 1951, for instance, London Scottish winger John Hart and Melrose lock Jimmie Johnston had the misfortune to make their debuts in the 44-0 defeat by South Africa, a result that haunted Scottish rugby for some time.
You would hope that last week’s 61-21 defeat by England does not have such lasting consequences, for all that it was a record loss for the fixture, but it was nonetheless unfortunate for Cornell du Preez that, after waiting patiently to play his first Test, he should come off the bench in such sorrowful circumstances.
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Having qualified on residency late last year, the Edinburgh No 8 was called into the squad for the Autumn Tests but did not appear in a matchday 23, and owed his call-up for the Calcutta Cup game to the injuries that ruled out Josh Strauss and John Hardie.
By the time Du Preez came on for Ryan Wilson with 20 minutes to play, the game was long gone, but it was still a very frustrating experience. Even so, the South-Africa born forward, who turns 26 next week, was able to look back with pride on the culmination of a journey begun when he joined Edinburgh back in 2013.
“The result was tough to take, but sometimes you get your first international cap in unusual circumstances,” Du Preez said. “But it was still a very proud moment for me to get on and get an international cap.”
With Wilson a doubt after suffering a head knock against England, Du Preez could be in the starting line-up which Vern Cotter will announce today for Saturday’s match against Italy.
He is pretty familiar with Murrayfield by now, having turned out for Edinburgh there a number of times, but if he is involved either from the start or as a replacement it will, he explained, feel like starting over.
“It will feel completely different this time. It will probably feel like it’s the first time I’ve been there – I’m very excited.”
No-one in the Scotland camp will take the challenge of Italy lightly, but Du Preez is likely to have the toughest task in the team, trying to snuff out the threat posed by the visitors’ captain Sergio Parisse.
Du Preez has come up against the Stade Francais player at club level before, and, as a young player in South Africa, looked up to him as a role model of dynamic back-row play.
“He’s a very talented ball player – a lot revolves round him in the Italian team, so we have to shut him down. We have plans in place, so we’ll see how it goes at the weekend.
“He’s a big part of their game. We have plans to disrupt him as much as we can, but he could always surprise us at the weekend as he’s a top player.
“He’s a guy I watched growing up – he’s very skilful and it’s a joy to watch him play. He’s one of the best back-row players in the world, especially in a team that has not always done well yet he’s always been a stand-out performer. It shows how good he actually is.”