RUARIDH Jackson returns to the competition tomorrow night that first awakened the UK to his talents brimming with excitement at the hours of extra tuition and "homework" he has received from Scotland's leading stand-offs.
• During months of recovery from a shoulder injury, Ruaridh Jackson, 21, picked up plenty of tips from Dan Parks, Duncan Hodge and Gregor Townsend. Picture: SNS
The 21-year-old was something of a revelation this time last year when, after starring on his debut against Bath in the Heineken Cup, he was called into Frank Hadden's final Six Nations squad. He was behind Dan Parks and Phil Godman in the pecking order, but it provided invaluable experience which he put to good use in the Scotland 'A' triumph in the IRB Nations Cup in June.
However, his 2009-10 season started with a bang – coming off the bench against Munster in the opening game and dislocating a shoulder in the act of scoring a try. He played at full-back for the last 20 minutes of Glasgow's defeat away to Edinburgh a fortnight ago, but tomorrow night's clash with the Dragons will be his first start since he faced Connacht last May due to a shoulder injury.
He revealed yesterday that he had spent much of the four months in rehab since learning from a trio of masters in teammate Dan Parks, Duncan Hodge, now the Scotland kicking coach, and the Scotland backs coach, Gregor Townsend.
"Gregor has been really good with me, regularly in touch and giving me homework to do," he said. "It's been things like researching other stand-offs and analysing their performances. I've analysed Brock James at Clermont, Nicky Little at Bath and just tried to pick up different things that other tens do.
"I have also spoken with Andy Robinson at the Edinburgh games, and now it's up to me to stake a claim and do enough to be in the eye of the selectors. There is added pressure this year and I hope I have a shout (for the Six Nations], but I am a relaxed kind of guy.
"It (the Six Nations] is at the back of my mind right now because I must focus on my first game back on Friday. It is up to me to put my hand up now. Hopefully, I will not try and push it too much against the Dragons and stick to the game plan, focus on my own game and work on the assumption if I play well these sort of things (international selection] will take care of themselves."
It is a tough ask for Jackson to win selection for the Scotland Six Nations squad, which will be named next Wednesday, after just one full game back. However, there is no doubt that the Scotland management see a bright future for the youngster.
He has also been sitting beside Townsend in the stand at recent Glasgow games, being asked to talk the Scotland coach through the game, and been spending much time on his skills with Hodge, Parks and his half-back partner tonight, Colin Gregor - one of the best kickers of the ball from hand in Scotland. He acknowledged that that might prove to be the silver lining to four months spent in rehabilitation.
"You've got to take as many positives out of a negative as you can and it was a great chance to work more closely every day on skills and hone them, working with all of these guys," he said.
"Now, the hope is that I can take what I've been working on and execute them in the game. I definitely feel I'm a better player now than I was four months ago. Training has gone well and I'm feeling sharp."
Townsend, Hodge, Gregor and Parks all have very different skill-sets and experience, but the influence of Parks could prove crucial as few in Scotland know how to control a modern game the way he does, through kicking, and that was arguably the part of Jackson's game most in need of improvement. The ideal would be for the young stand-off to add Parks' control to his own running flair before Parks leaves for Cardiff in the summer.
"Parksy is a great guy and I get on well with him. Dan is one of the best game managers around and his kicking game is phenomenal – I am not at his standard of kicking yet but I am working on it.
"I also want to learn other strengths from him and put it into my game to make me an all round player. It can be tough because you're trying to learn about that side of the game and you want to take those skills into the game, but at the same time you don't want to lose your true natural game as well.
"Obviously, you can't just attack, attack, attack; there are times when you have to sit back, drill the corners and put the pressure on them. So, it's about developing the all-round ability to be able to change a game at certain times."
Now looking forward simply to returning to the field of play at kick-off time and being given the chance to direct another Heine-ken Cup match, he added: "I feel more comfortable in the team now and feel like I belong here. I feel I have performed at a decent enough level to earn my place and can pick up from where I left off and push on. This week it's about taking all that I have learned and making it work for Glasgow."