Jamie Ritchie is delighted to finally get the chance to captain Scotland after his hopes of leading his country in the summer were dashed by coronavirus.
The 25-year-old Edinburgh flanker was initially due to skipper the national team in Tests against Georgia and Romania in July, but those matches were scrapped due to the pandemic.
Ritchie will have the honour, belatedly, after he and Glasgow's Ali Price were named co-captains for Saturday's Test against Tonga at Murrayfield.
He said: “It was a huge honour to be asked to be captain in the summer, regardless of whether or not we had a game, and I’m just delighted that Ali and I get to share that honour this week.
“It was obviously pretty disappointing that we didn’t get a game in the summer but, for me, it was more disappointing for the guys who missed out on some opportunities to play.
“It was obviously a pretty changed group and there were some guys in it who may not get another chance, so it’s a shame for them. It’s great to see a lot of the new guys who were involved in the summer staying involved for this autumn series.
“Ali and I have been vice-captains for a wee while now, so we’re used to how each other works and we share the loads in terms of training and messaging and stuff. It’s been pretty seamless.”
Pride will be the overriding emotion for Ritchie and his family this weekend.
He said: “My family are a big rugby family. For me, it’s a massive honour to captain Scotland. I got to do it through the age grades as well, which was amazing.
“There’s something super-special about it. It’s hard to describe because you don’t dream about captaining your country. You dream about playing for your country. But for me now, it’s awesome.”
First game in seven months
Saturday’s match is Scotland’s first in seven months since they defeated France in Paris at the end of a Guinness Six Nations campaign which also featured a Calcutta Cup win over England at Twickenham.
Ritchie is enthused by the prospect of trying to build on those results from earlier in the year as Scotland prepare to play in front of supporters for the first time in 19 months.
Ritchie said: “I’m pretty excited about the fact we had those results behind closed doors and also knowing how much energy we get from the crowd, especially at Murrayfield.
“I’m really excited to play in front of the fans again. It’s all about trying to move forward on the back of our results from the past year or so. The challenge . . . is to get better.”
Ritchie hopes Scotland can pay a fitting tribute to Scotland great Sandy Carmichael, who died this week aged 77.
He said: “Gregor spoke about it in our meeting this morning. He was the first Scottish player to reach 50 caps, so he’s an inspiration for all Scottish players. There will be a minute’s silence before the game and he’ll be in our thoughts.”
SCOTLAND: 15. Darcy Graham, 14. Kyle Steyn, 13. Sione Tuipulotu, 12. Sam Johnson, 11. Rufus McLean, 10. Blair Kinghorn, 9. Ali Price (co-captain), 8. Matt Fagerson, 7. Hamish Watson, 6. Jamie Ritchie (co-captain), 5. Rob Harley, 4. Jamie Hodgson, 3. Zander Fagerson, 2. George Turner, 1. Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16. Stuart McInally, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Oli Kebble, 19. Marshall Sykes, 20. Luke Crosbie, 21. Nick Haining, 22. Jamie Dobie, 23. Ross Thompson.
TONGA: 15. James Faiva, 14. Atunaisa Manu, 13. Malietoa Hingano, 12. Vaea Vaea, 11. Walter Fifita, 10. Kurt Morath, 9. Sonatane Takulua (captain), 8. Valentino Mapapalangi, 7. Fotu Lokotui, 6. Tanginoa Halaifonua, 5. Setofano Funaki, 4. Halaleva Fifita, 3. David Lolohea, 2. Maile Ngauamo, 1. Loni Uhila.
Replacements: 16. Siua Maile, 17. Jethro Felemi, 18. Toma Taufa, 19. Dan Faleafa, 20. Onehunga Havili, 21. Mateaki Kafatolu, 22. Aisea Halo, 23. Navarre Haisila.