SAM Hidalgo-Clyne is one of many talented young players emerging in Scottish rugby, but supporters across the land may be forgiven for wondering who he is.
In days past, no youngster with the ability to become an internationalist could make it to the age of 20 without being well known in our relatively small rugby community, but it is common now as Scottish rugby continues to wrestle with a problem hampering the development of talent.
It is essentially this: How to best develop players’ physical ability and basic skills for the significant step-up to professional rugby while ensuring they benefit from the most important aspect of sport, the opportunity to perform every week.
So, Edinburgh scrum-half Hidalgo-Clyne was on the bench for Heriot’s on Saturday in the RBS Premiership. Late on Friday night, after Edinburgh had beaten Newcastle in a pre-season friendly but been forced to withdraw Greig Laidlaw with an injury, Heriot’s were informed that Hidalgo-Clyne was no longer available.
Fair enough, as Edinburgh were concerned about cover. Hidalgo-Clyne started the season as sixth-choice scrum-half at the pro club but, with injuries to Grayson Hart, Chris Leck and now Laidlaw, and the youngster seemingly overtaking the older Alex Black in the pecking order, he is now in line to be on Edinburgh’s bench for the opening RaboDirect PRO12 match against Munster on Saturday.
But, might he not have been better served with game-time on Saturday? He was only lined up for the second-half. Instead of taking the risk that he might be injured in those 40 minutes against Gala, Edinburgh may this weekend need to rely on a player “fresh” from a three-month summer of training without competitive rugby. Edinburgh’s new coach, Alan Solomons, sees a bright future for Hidalgo-Clyne, so he may be a lucky one, but he is still learning the game and needs regular weekly game time to realise his potential.
Scottish football has a similar problem. Rangers and Celtic continue to hoover up much of the best young teenage talent across the country, even with Rangers out of the SPFL. Many youngsters are just delighted to be on their books. Others with a bit more savvy will ask what their prospects are at clubs with relatively big cheque books and where foreign signings are regular.
They are often told: “It’s up to you, son. If you have the ability, attitude and ambition you can push through and claim your place in the first team in time, but if you lack the ambition to try, well…”
So they take up the challenge. Yet, it is not a level playing field. Scottish youngsters strive to prove themselves in youth or reserve games, where the quality is not as high as the SPFL, never mind that of teams they face in Europe, and, when handed an opportunity in the first team, are effectively sprinting to get up to pace, while trying to show the composure vital to perform at that level.
Celtic striker Tony Watt proved that he could in the SPFL and Champions League, yet is now out on loan in Belgium. That may help him get game-time at a decent level, so could be a positive move by Neil Lennon, but history suggests that the next time we see him will not be scoring goals for Celtic but being plucked from an England League One or Two side by a Scotland manager.
There are various reasons players do not realise early potential but, when Sportscotland Institute of Sport research reveals that close to 90 percent of Scotland’s youth standard-bearers fail to make headway in senior sport, we are duty bound to question our development pathways. In football and rugby, coaches/managers at full Scotland level share their frustration at having to school players aged 23 and 24 and older in basic skills or game understanding days before an international match. A mistake here and there, and under-pressure bosses invariably look elsewhere for a quick fix.
At club level, that means another overseas signing. He may ultimately never be as good as the young Scottish kid might, given proper development time, but this week is closer to the finished article and ‘can do a job’. The Scot, meanwhile, slips down a rung, being told ‘show us you deserve to be up there’.
Show us? Where, when not allowed to play?
Lessons to be learned from Chalmers’ case
We now understand that Melrose teenager Sam Chalmers pled guilty at last week’s IRB hearing and has been suspended for testing positive for a banned substance. Questions were inevitable over what that substance was and how it got there, but the more pertinent query is “why?”
Why did a 19-year-old with diabetes find himself trying to increase his weight to an unnatural level with such huge calorie intake that it played with his health? The answer is because he was told, often, by leading coaches in Scottish rugby that while he was a skilful player, with a good rugby brain, he was not physically big enough to make a career in the game.
Linked to the above comments, that is because young Scots are vying for pro contracts with overseas signings from the southern hemisphere, most of whose body shapes tend to be bigger.
There is no excuse for any player who takes banned substances nor one who fails to check what he is putting into his body, with the warnings and advice that exist in sport, but how many other players are being pressurised in this way? According to parents of several current age-grade internationalists, it is widespread. So who is in control when players, particularly young amateurs like Chalmers, are trying to pile on two to three stones more weight than their skeletons were designed for?
We hope that Chalmers’ experience provides a lesson for those in authority as much as it does for young players, and that he is able to come back from this and have a full and enjoyable rugby career, at whatever level that turns out to be.