KIERAN Low is not one to beat about the bush. The 22-year-old was born in the south of England and grew up in Chichester with a Welsh-born father and mother who hails from Scunthorpe, but if he is handed an opportunity to stride out on to Murrayfield this autumn, one that he never grew up dreaming of, it will be the highlight of his life so far.
Unlike some who come to Scotland looking for international honours and prove their allegiance with tales of childhood dreams of wearing the navy blue, despite having grown up in another country, Low is blunt and admits the reason he chose Scotland over England, or indeed Wales, was simply because Scott Johnson, the interim head coach, offered him the chance to play Test rugby before anyone else did.
“It was a pretty easy decision to make,” he said. “I grew up in England and so was part of the English system until a couple of years ago, but always knew I was Scottish qualified. I was thinking about Scotland at the end of last season, but then they got in touch with me and asked if I would be interested in throwing my lot in with Scotland and I said I’d love to.”
The connection is not without emotion. He is qualified to play for Scotland through his paternal grandfather Wilfred Henry Low, who was born in Dingwall, though he is aware of some Irish heritage, too, but that may go back further than the grandparents rule.
“My family going back are from all over Britain and Ireland,” he said. “I’ve always known that my grandfather was Scottish because he lived in the same place as us, and he had some stereotypical Scottish traits – I couldn’t understand him sometimes and he liked his whisky!
“Unfortunately, he passed away before we got the chance to talk about me playing for Scotland, but my parents are delighted with my selection and back me 100 per cent, and I feel that he would have been very proud.”
At 6ft 6in tall and nearly 18 stones, Low offers a rare versatility to Johnson. He says he is equally comfortable playing in the second row and back row, and while enjoying the greater freedom of the No 6 jersey for London Irish this season he would have no qualms about stepping into the Scotland boiler-room.
With the likes of Jim Hamilton, Al Kellock, Richie and Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist and Tim Swinson already there, one imagines his form at blindside flanker is what has most caught the attention of Johnson and Vern Cotter. After Alasdair Strokosch, Rob Harley and No8/flanker Kelly Brown, Scotland start to run a bit thin on athletic and powerful ball-carrying ability, and Low’s form and experience, with 35 first-team outings, 20 in the Aviva Premiership since his debut as a teenager, suggests that he may have something to add to the equation.
London Irish director of rugby Brian Smith spoke highly of the former basketball player, recently stating: “We produce a lot of good academy players because they get exposed to top-line rugby earlier. Guys like Gerard Ellis, Kieran Lowe and Jon Fisher have earned a lot of respect in the [first-team] group. Some of those guys are going to have a breakthrough season.”
Low is certainly proving that to be true. He will be near Scotland this weekend, if selected for the Premiership match at Newcastle, but he has not been guaranteed anything by Johnson, and acknowledges that while eager to feature in the autumn Tests he may have to wait until the Scotland A matches in 2014 and the Six Nations for an international debut.
He has reassured Johnson, however, that no matter how long he may have to wait he is now Scottish. “I’ve made my decision now to play for Scotland and I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “There are a lot of great players with a lot more experience than me in this big training squad so I know it’s going to be really tough to get into a Test squad. But it’s great to be given the opportunity.
“There aren’t many guys that can play six and lock, so that’s a bonus for me I think, and I’m certainly going into the camp with the ambition to push on and try to become part of the autumn Tests.
“I’ve met Jim Hamilton before and spoken to Scott Lawson and other Scottish guys in England, and I played with Tom Heathcote coming through the England under-18s, and they’ve all told me how brilliant the set-up is up there, and how special it is to play for Scotland and especially at Murrayfield.
“To me, it doesn’t matter that I played for England when I was younger,” he added, with typical candour. “I’m qualified for play for Scotland and I’ve been given the chance to join the national squad for training next week.
“Now it’s all about doing the best I can and trying to push on over the season to prove that I’m good enough to be considered. The World Cup in 2015 is a great aim for me now and I can’t wait to get involved.”
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE