Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor backs John Hardie to become crowd favourite
Scotland assistant coach Matt Taylor reckons John Hardie is on the road to becoming a fans' favourite.
The New Zealand-born flanker landed a shock call-up to Vern Cotter's World Cup squad when he was chosen ahead of John Barclay and Blair Cowan.
His inclusion in the 31-man travelling party sparked a furious backlash from the likes of former Dark Blues prop Peter Wright, who dubbed the decision to snub home-grown talent like Barclay in particular a "disgrace".
But Hardie - who only touched down in Scotland for the first time six weeks ago - has quickly set about justifying his place after impressive outings in his first two Scotland caps.
He made 17 tackles without failure on his Test debut away to Italy last month before putting in another solid defensive display in the 19-16 defeat to France in Paris last weekend.
The former Highlander - who qualifies for the Scots thanks to his Fifer grandparents - is still adjusting to the challenge of international rugby, but Taylor believes he could win a place in the hearts of the Scotland support when they get their World Cup campaign under way on September 23 against Japan.
He said: "On the field John has been excellent. I'm really excited for him because he's come in and just got his head down and worked hard. He's a quality person and a quality rugby player.
"I think you'll find the rest of the group have also been really happy with him and appreciate him not only as a guy but as a player as well.
"I don't know if he has felt under pressure to justify his place because I haven't asked him that. But he may have felt like that. He's gone out and trained really hard though and shown on the field how good he is.
"He might have felt under that pressure, I don't know, but I think he's done a great job regardless.
"I wouldn't be surprised in six months or a year's time once he's had a lot more games for Scotland that he becomes a crowd favourite. If he keeps playing the way he is, the Scottish people will appreciate that he's working hard and putting his body on the line. He's already done that and I think he'll continue to do that."
Taylor is in charge of planning Scotland's defensive back-up plan ahead of their clashes with the Cherry Blossoms, the United States, South Africa and Samoa.
First he will have to stop a Japan side who have run in 10 tries in their last three games when they square up at Gloucester's Kingsholm Stadium.
"I'm concerned about the attacking threat of every team we play," said Taylor. "Japan are certainly good at scoring tries from set-piece, so I think we need to have really good structures in place.
"They play a high tempo game so we need to get up and make some dominant hits to slow them down.
"All the teams in our group can score tries, so I've got my work cut out for me."
The Scots started 2016 with six straight defeats but finally got their year kick-started with back-to-back wins over Italy last month.
They could have clinched a draw with Les Bleus at the Stade de France, but turned down a certain three points when they opted to run a stoppage-time penalty - only to see the hosts hold on.
Taylor, though, believes Scotland are on the up.
He said: "It's right to say we've had a reasonable warm-up series and performed well but no-one will remember those games - it's the World Cup where we will be judged.
"We can be confident in that we have improved and developed but we need to keep doing that.
"It wouldn't be ideal [if we lost one of the opening two games against Japan or the US]. It's hard to say if it would be a disaster but it's obviously not what we want.
"You want to try and win every game in the pool and that's our aim. If we drop one, then that's not on our agenda."