IN THE intriguing tale developing around the fight for the Scotland No 9 jersey, Henry Pyrgos has found himself cast in the role of “The Third Man”.
Most of the attention of late has focused on 21-year-old Edinburgh tyro Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, recently named Guinness Pro12 young player of the year. Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw, meanwhile, firmed up his hold on the starting slot with a mature display for Gloucester in the head-to-head battle with his Six Nations deputy Hidalgo-Clyne during the European Challenge Cup final at Twickenham Stoop earlier in the month.
Pyrgos has slightly flown under the radar despite being an integral part of Glasgow’s table-topping season and their charge to tomorrow evening’s Pro12 final against Munster in Belfast. He has 13 caps to Hidalgo-Clyne’s five and is highly regarded by his coach Gregor Townsend, who has made him the Warriors’ first-choice No 9 and moved Niko Matawalu’s mercurial talents out to the wing.
Tomorrow evening is a fantastic opportunity for the 25-year-old Dorset-born player to remind the Scottish rugby public that the battle for the scrum-half berth at this year’s World Cup is very much a three-way tussle.
“Getting to play in these big games is what you want,” said Pyrgos, looking ahead to the most important match of his career so far. “I’ve been fortunate enough to play in a few. International games too, which gives a lot of confidence. And not just semi-finals and finals, big away games too at the likes of Leinster and Munster.
“Going to these places and picking up wins in the last few years has brought the squad on. Confidence is a massive thing in sport. In the first few years I was here, we struggled to win away but, recently, we’ve put some big teams away. It gives us huge belief.”
Pyrgos is happy with his own form going into the game and feels he is feeding off a general flow of confidence which is pulsing through the Warriors’ veins at present.
“I feel like I’m playing pretty well at the moment,” he added. “If the forwards play well, it makes my job a little easier. I feel like I’ve had a good season and it’s just a case of doing my job well. I’ve got a lot of talented playmakers around me and it’s just about facilitating them, getting them the ball and putting them in positions where they can do their stuff.
“We’ve got some wonderful players and hopefully at the weekend we can get the upper hand on them and I can help us towards a big victory.”
Townsend’s confidence in Pyrgos has clearly given him a big lift but the former Loughborough University man added: “I feel like I’ve always had a big part to play here, even last season. Gregor talked this morning about the importance of the squad – we’ve used about 50 players this season. “Over a long season you need to have a good squad to do well in this competition.
“It’s great to be involved in the final, it’s going to be a massive test and we’re desperate to win,” added Pyrgos.
He just missed out on last year’s final in Dublin, with Chris Cusiter starting and Matawalu coming off the bench in the 34-12 defeat by Leinster.
Pyrgos said: “Last year I was in the stands. I was 24th man so I was involved in the warm-up and everything. It was disappointing but, ultimately, I understood. We had been playing well, beating good teams home and away, and we started with Cus.
“I knew that it wasn’t about individuals it’s about the collective and it was a shame we fell short. Leinster played really well in the final and it wasn’t to be but, hopefully, this year we have the squad to go one better.”
Pyrgos has very much been part of Glasgow’s year-on-year progression and, whatever the outcome tomorrow, believes next season will see another step forward, with progress in Europe the ultimate goal.
“Every year since I’ve been here [summer 2010] we’ve got better,” he said. “You have to. If you stand still in this competition you’re going to struggle. In Europe we fell a bit short this year, it’s tough, but I know next year that will be a big target for us to get out of the group. We’re building each year. Hopefully this weekend we can take another step – I believe we can.”
Pyrgos’ half-back partnership with Finn Russell is likely to be pivotal to the outcome at the Kingspan Stadium tomorrow night and Pyrgos feels the pair have really gelled. He said: “Finn’s great off the pitch, I really enjoy his company.
“On the pitch he’s brilliant. As you saw last weekend, when the moment came, he had the skill and ability to put in a brilliant pass and then had the composure to slot the conversion.
“He’s a young guy but his game understanding is getting better all the time.
“He’s come on leaps and bounds considering he only really came into the team halfway through last season, firstly at 12, and now he’s getting better and better at 10.
“As nines and 10s we just need to get the ball into the hands of the guys around us and let them do their tricks. He’s got a big future ahead of him.”