WHILE most test debutantes have to be tied down to the bench to prevent them joining the action early, such is their enthusiasm, Tom Heathcote could have been forgiven if he’d answered Andy Robinson’s call with a curt: “No thanks,” and clung onto the reserve bench like a drowning man.
The poor 20-year-old was thrown into an impossible situation. Asked to retrieve a match which was not so much slipping out of Scotland’s grasp but rather was dead, buried and pushing up daisies, he got about 15 minutes of play. The poor man missed with his one kick at goal, which would have tied the scores, and he dropped the last pass of the match to signal no side. All in all, it was an inauspicious start but the youngster insisted that, having pinned his colours to the Scottish mast with yesterday’s appearance, he was happy with his decision.
“I’ve no regrets,” he said after the match. “I was very frustrated and disappointed at how the [game] went and for me personally as well. It was just massively, massively frustrating and we can only look to go forward. It is a hugely proud day for me to win my first cap but, obviously, I’m disappointed with how things turned out. The whole week’s training left such a good taste at being involved in the international environment. The guys were awesome and that just makes the day all the more frustrating. I’ve seen in training the ambition and the quality that Scotland has.”
Heathcote played age-grade rugby for England against Scotland as recently as last February at Firhill before jumping ship. What made him change his mind? “While I was out injured I had a lot of time to think about it and I just felt it was the right decision for me. I talked it through with family and friends and coaches and felt it was the right decision.”
For all his pedigree, that was not obvious to the 20,000 crowd packed into Aberdeen’s Pittodrie stadium yesterday afternoon. The last time Scotland played here the local lad Ruaridh Jackson kicked the winning penalty against Samoa two years ago. It may be stretching things to call Heathcote a “local lad” since he was born in Inverness, but he did have a tricky chance of levelling the scores late in the day only to see his penalty fall short. “It was a kick that I’d always back myself to make but I just didn’t quite catch it how I would have liked,” he said afterwards. “From my point of view I pride myself of being reliable so to miss that one by my standards wasn’t the greatest.”
Heathcote confirmed that, in his first team games for Bath this season, he has kicked nine from nine, a 100 per cent success record at club level. He also has a 100 per cent record with his adopted country, one attempt at goal and one miss.
The young Bath player can console himself with the thought that there is only one way his international career can go after this opener.