ANDY Robinson believes that the latest recruit to his Scotland set-up, Tom Heathcote, will form part of a new era of young talent to build success north of the Border.
The coach named Heathcote on the bench for Saturday’s final EMC Autumn Test with Tonga, and there is little doubt that he will be handed his first cap at some point in the game to ensure that he finishes 2012 firmly Scottish-qualified. Henry Pyrgos will get his first Test start this weekend. Max Evans, Scott Lawson, Al Kellock and Alasdair Strokosch all return to the starting line-up and Rory Lawson to the bench. Uncapped Edinburgh lock Grant Gilchrist is on the bench for the first time and Mike Blair, Ross Ford, Jim Hamilton, Stuart McInally, Peter Murchie and Ruaridh Jackson are left out of the 23 altogether.
Robinson did not suggest that he was merely resting players but that they were dropped and his focus is very much on how to make the team more creative and clinical.
A belief that he is uncovering the personnel to create success was at the heart of the argument he used to persuade Heathcote to leave behind his England age-group caps and switch allegiance to the land of his birth.
The speed of 20-year-old Bath stand-off’s call-up has caused a stir but, born in Inverness, he has stronger ties than team-mates such as David Denton, Pyrgos and Evans, who all qualify through parents and grandparents, while Tim Visser qualified on residency rules. His father Gareth was stationed at RAF Kinloss, as a pilot flying Nimrod and the family headed back down south when Heathcote was three, but that link to Scotland came to Robinson’s attention three years ago when the talented youngster wore the lilywhite alongside the coach’s son Oliver.
Robinson explained: “I have known Tom since he was 17, when he was playing for England U18s with my son. I have been following his career and it was fantastic to know that he was born in Inverness. I have been speaking to him for the last year about playing for Scotland.
“I talked to him about the potential of the team. I talked about Richie Gray, Tim Visser, Matt Scott - the players who are here in Scotland and the potential Scotland has to be a very successful team in the future. I talk about that to any player, wherever I am. This is an opportunity to be part of something.
“I think he is qualified to play for Wales as well [through a Welsh grandmother]. He had the support of his parents and they are delighted that he wants to play for Scotland. He has committed very early and I’m looking forward to him playing for Scotland.”
Former Scotland fly-half Craig Chalmers was critical of the move in yesterday’s Scotsman, suggesting that it was too early and that Glasgow’s former Melrose talent Scott Wight should have been given a chance first. But, Robinson is aware that Heathcote is further ahead of Wight in terms of the standard of play he has been producing. He was a genuine rival to All Black Stephen Donald until suffering a knee injury in the summer, but Robinson told him then that if he was back fit and playing well for Bath he would be considered for this final game of the year.
Had he not been injured, Robinson agreed that he may have been picked for the entire autumn series, but he has no doubt that after three games for Bath’s second-string and two for the 1st XV in recent weeks
“Everyone will have an opinion on this. Fly-half is a position that we have Greig [Laidlaw] playing currently, but you need depth. We have to find players of real quality and I believe Tom is real quality.
“He played for Bath against Glasgow [last season] – he was substituted for Stephen Donald – and he played well that day. I didn’t involve him in the squad at the start because he was injured. I wanted him to get three or four games under his belt and I was looking at this game as an opportunity to capture a very good player for the future.
“But he showed his ability in his performances for Bath last season. He is fit and he has a good head on his shoulders. He kicked nine from nine in the games he has played [this season] and I am confident in this lad. It is about the future for us and I think he will contribute really well. He has quality and I felt that it was right for Scotland, moving forward, to have a ten who is competing at the highest level.”
Robinson intimated that Jackson was very disappointed to be released from the squad, but explained that he had dropped in the pecking order from the no1 position he held this time last year, and also that he expected him to come back stronger. Similarly, he insisted that dropping Mike Blair did not signal the end of the scrum-half’s Test career at 31, and stated that he viewed this Test match as an opportunity to widen the experience of players, who, he believes clearly, to be key parts of his squad building towards the 2015 World Cup.
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Sean Lamont
13 Max Evans
12 Matt Scott
11 Tim Visser
10 Greig Laidlaw
9 Henry Pyrgos
1 Ryan Grant
2 Scott Lawson
3 Euan Murray
4 Richie Gray
5 Alastair Kellock
6 Alasdair Strokosch
7 Kelly Brown (c)
8 David Denton
Dougie Hall, Kyle Traynor, Geoff Cross, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, Rory Lawson, Tom Heathcote, Nick De Luca.