AFTER a two-year spell playing in France, talented young scrum-half Murdo McAndrew is heading back to the Scottish club game for what he hopes will be the next step on the ladder to his international dream.
The Scotland under-20 player, who turned 20 last month, followed the path taken by Mark Bennett, the Glasgow Warriors centre, in leaving school two years ago to join the academy of French champions Clermont Auvergne. After two seasons progressing through the under-19s and under-21s squads, and training full-time with Vern Cotter’s senior squad, the scrum-half from Fife has agreed on a move to Melrose.
McAndrew explained: “I have had an amazing experience for the past two seasons with Clermont. It was a big challenge heading straight from school to a foreign country but I feel I have benefited hugely from it.
“Clermont is a great place to focus on individual skills and I’ve learnt a lot from really good coaches and players as well as being exposed to the huge rugby culture in France. Getting the opportunity to play In the under-19 and under-21 French championship against teams like Montpellier, Stade Francais and Toulouse was amazing.
“Now, I feel I need to be playing more regular rugby at a high level in order to further develop my game, and I’m really excited to get started with Melrose. I think it’s a great club and I’m really looking forward to the challenges and opportunities.”
McAndrew admitted that the fact that Melrose had won the Premiership and would lead Scottish club sides into the British and Irish Cup next season had also been a factor in his move to the Borders club.
It is timely for Melrose, who have lost skipper Bruce Colvine to a spell in New Zealand. Coach John Dalziel said: “We were on the lookout for a scrum-half and it’s fantastic for us that a player of Murdo’s quality and with his ambitions to play pro and international rugby sees our club as a good stepping stone for him.
“It would have been easy for him to rock up at an Edinburgh club because there is a connection with this move to the Edinburgh pro club as well, where he will also train, but he spoke to me about a buzz going around that Melrose is an ambitious club where young players can learn a lot and I’m delighted to hear that.
“Certainly, with former international scrum-halves Bob Chrystie and Ciaran Beattie on our coaching staff, Murdo will get a lot of attention and help to develop his game. We also have Tom Wilson coming through, another young talent, and they will provide good competition for each other, which is what we need to challenge domestically and in the British and Irish Cup next season.”
Dalziel has coached McAndrew at Scotland under-20 level and is aware of the criticism aimed his way that he is using his position to entice under-20 caps to the Borders. But, in seeking to keep a club in a town of less than 3,000 people at the top of Scottish rugby, he is following a well-worn path, trodden down over decades from the early days of league rugby. For example, PC Brown and Sandy Carmichael headed from Ayrshire to West of Scotland, while Nairn MacEwan, Jim Aitken, Tom Smith and David Leslie moved to Gala, Fin Calder went to Melrose and Iwan Tukalo and Iain Paxton joined Selkirk.
“Like every other club we just try to make this as welcoming and exciting a club to play at as we can,” said Dalziel. “I have heard recently that, if players are leaving an Edinburgh club, their coaches are encouraging them to go to the Borders rather than a rival city club, but that’s up to them.
“We are ambitious and we want to challenge for silverware again and play our part in lifting the standard of Scottish club rugby further so, if boys want to travel down here, then great.
“Murdo is a player who has the ability to go to the very top in the game. He has done really well in France and is still young, and needs to learn and improve, of course, but our club game has a lot going for it and, just as Damien Hoyland did last season, I hope he proves that it is a great launchpad for talented young Scots into pro rugby.”