HOOKER Kevin Bryce arrived at BT Murrayfield yesterday expecting to have a routine medical check and was shocked to discover that he was heading to the Rugby World Cup.
The 27-year-old Glasgow Warrior has been called up to replace Edinburgh’s Stuart McInally, who was yesterday ruled out of the tournament with a neck injury.
When Bryce faced the media yesterday lunchtime, he was still in a slight state of disbelief.
“Half an hour ago. That is how fresh it is,” he said when asked when he had received the news from head coach Vern Cotter.
“I never heard the news about Stuart. I got a phone call to come in for a check. I was not aware I was going to be training with the squad. I just thought [SRU doctor] James Robson was going to check me over from the Glasgow game as I realised I was going to be back-up cover.”
Bryce came off the bench in the Warriors’ 33-32 win over Connacht – a game in which his younger brother, Glenn, scored a try from full-back. The Bryces of Alloa are a family steeped in rugby, with dad Jock a long-time stalwart of Heriot’s, and he was the first person his son called after hearing the news.
Bryce said: “I am over the moon. I have a few texts coming in and I got a quick phone call to my old man. That is the only person I have told so far.
“He’s working up in Tiree just now. He’s got a holiday home there and he’s been that busy he’s pretty much stayed there for the past three or four years.
“We’ve been working there for about eight years. I was working with my dad there on the building site before I signed for Glasgow.
“It did my nut in. There’s not much you can do up there. I was just grafting away on the building site and playing amateur rugby with Heriot’s.”
Bryce had been drafted in to the squad as injury cover earlier in the summer and was on the bench for the 16-12 win over Italy in Turin but was an unused replacement.
The 25-year-old is a former recipient of the John Macphail Scholarship which earned him a summer playing club rugby in New Zealand in 2007. He is the fifth Macphail scholar to make this year’s World Cup squad, joining Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Finn Russell and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne.
Asked if he had a bag packed just in case the call came due to injury, Bryce admitted that it was not even on his radar.
“No, not at all,” he explained. “When I went to Italy I thought that was it, I was coming for cover, just in case. I genuinely never thought anything like this would happen.
“I came close to getting on in Italy, but I never did. I was stripped ready to go, eight minutes to go, then I think the guy managed to get on all right with his injury.
“I have a wee boy Leyton and I have just booked his birthday party in October and I am going to miss it, so I need to let him know.
“I feel sorry for Rambo [McInally]. But it is my opportunity to grasp this with both hands.”
Bryce is now in his third season at Scotstoun, although this time last year he had played more times for Scotland [two caps] than he had for his club. That first cap in Toronto saw Bryce return to his back-row roots, playing No 8 on opposition ball and openside on Scotland’s. Cotter has been keen to exploit any versatility across the squad and that got Bryce the nod ahead of the likes of Scott Lawson or Pat MacArthur.
Bryce certainly feels at home in the front row now, but can call on his back-row background with an injection of dynamism in open play.
“I believe my strengths are ball-carrying. Hopefully I get some go-forward. I’m quite aggressive,” he said.
“My throwing in has been fine. I’ve had Scott Lawson working alongside me at Glasgow, and I feel I’ve come on leaps and bounds. From being an amateur hooker to a professional hooker is completely different – the speed of the ball, speed of the jump, everything is completely different.
“I’ve had to learn, and I’m still learning now. I was 21, 22 when I changed and I was 27 last week.”
Cotter will lead the squad south tomorrow and he said: “The guys have spent some time with friends and family and we’re just looking forward to getting started.
“Since the France game there’s been a feeling we’ve been treading water a little bit. It would have been nice to be first up, but we’re not. We’ll be into it soon enough. I’d love to be under way straight away but there’s no point in thinking about it.
“We have a short turnaround [between the first two games] and it’s going to be a challenge. We are focused on what we need to do. The start will be important, the speed of recovery too. There will be days when we need to put the shotgun on the other shoulder and learn to shoot left handed.”