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De Luca looks to win Scotland spot

Scotland centre Nick De Luca has missed a year of Scotland duty with an eye injury but the Edinburgh man says he is now looking forward to reclaiming his spot for good.

The 29-year-old suffered a fractured eye socket while training with the Gunners last January and the operation required to fix his shattered face meant he sat out both the RBS 6 Nations and the summer tour to South Africa.

At one point, the back - capped 38 times for his country - feared he might never be able to play again.

But with the injury finally healed, he has now earned himself a recall to Scott Johnson's squad for the opening Autumn international with Japan on Saturday and intends to make the most of the chance granted to him by the Dark Blues' Australian head coach.

He told Press Association Sport: "I'm buzzing to be back having been on the sidelines for a year. I'm delighted be back in and now I plan to show that on Saturday.

"I can't lie, it was very tough being out injured. I found it difficult sitting in the stands watching. Every player just wants to play, so when you can't, your emotions are up and down.

"It was a really worrying time. Because of the nature of the eye injury, I had to really sit down and think what I would do if it didn't go my way.

"Luckily things are going my way now and I can see one thing instead of two. Now I need to make the most of being back fit and healthy. "

De Luca's last outing as a Scotland player was the humiliating 21-15 defeat to Tonga at Pittodrie in November last year.

It was arguably the worst result in the nation's history and forced the resignation of then boss Andy Robinson.

The Englishman's former number two Johnson stepped up to replace him and did a sterling job as he led them to third place in the Six Nations.

Scotland did suffer consecutive defeats to Samoa and the Spingboks during their three-week spell in South Africa this summer but ended the trip on a high by beating Australia and De Luca says the feel good factor has definitely returned after Robinson's gloomy spell in charge.

"There's a different feeling about the place," he said. "The training is different, the environment is different. It's now a really good place to be and I'm enjoying it.

"Scott has made a difference. Obviously as our leader, he is always going to put his personality on the squad. You can see the effect that has had, especially in the way we train and even around the hotel where we are all staying right now.

"There's a different vibe and the boys are all a bit more upbeat.

"Personally, I think that benefits us on the pitch. We are all creatures of habit and right now we are all out on the pitch a lot drilling things so that come a match, when the pressure is on it becomes automatic. That is always more easier when everyone is relaxed with each other."

However, Johnson is only leading the country on a temporary basis and will hand over the reins to Clermont Auvergne's Kiwi head coach Vern Cotter in June of next year before moving to a technical director role with the Scottish Rugby Union.

But Cotter, 51, is in Scotland this week to see how the side are progressing and has even been spotted watching the side's training sessions from the sidelines.

De Luca, though, does not believe the squad will be in danger of receiving mixed messages.

He said: "We could worry or panic and come up with 100 different way things will change when Vern takes over. But we're making sure we are concentrating on what Scott wants us to do.

"I haven't had any communication with Vern other than to be introduced to him earlier. He has been out watching us train and I'm sure he will pull guys aside and have a word as the week goes on.

"But right now we have Scott and his team in charge and we will listen to what they tell us."

Cotter later revealed he was discussing long-term strategies with Johnson as they bid to develop a more competitive squad for the 2015 World Cup.

Cotter told BBC Scotland: "Jonno is doing a great job of running the whole show.

"There is more depth, more competition for spots. We have a good young generation coming through and some good old soldiers still in there.

"We're just having open discussions on some players and some strategies and certain developments within the team, so we'll be in a stronger position for the World Cup.

"I've got to finish my job with Clermont and these guys are working really well to move Scotland forward."


From Belfast Telegraph