TWO of the newcomers to Scotland’s summer tour squad are proof that Scottish players should never give up on their dreams, even if that means quitting the game here to find a way forward.
That is what Stevie Lawrie did when he found his route to the Edinburgh hooker’s jersey blocked by Ross Ford and Andy Kelly and could not persuade then coach Andy Robinson to give him more game-time. He left the capital, joined Doncaster Knights in the English second-tier and quickly became a leader at the Championship club. He did enough to secure a contract offer to return to Edinburgh two years ago and, now 29, his form and leadership with Edinburgh in a tough season, has earned a belated call-up.
Tim Swinson, the 26-year-old Glasgow lock, gave up on rugby after failing to make the grade with the Northampton academy. He played rugby at Sydney University, then Newcastle University and turned pro with the Falcons but then lost his enthusiasm before Glasgow snapped him up last summer.
He has found a new lease of life, coincidentally now living just 100 metres from where his mother grew up in Partick, and has stunned himself by opening the door to Test caps.
Scotland coach Scott Johnson came out with one of his unusual quotes when asked about players like Lawrie who come through late, stating: “An old coach used to say to me that great props [front rows] don’t develop until they’ve seen their own a***. And that can take a bit of time, so it’s no coincidence that they develop later. You’re up against wily old strongmen, and sometimes it’s about technique and sometimes it’s about something else.”
Lawrie said: “As a front row forward you need to be playing and scrummaging week in week out at the highest level you can. So I went down to the Championship with a view to doing that and definitely benefited. You look at guys like Tom Youngs [Leicester and England selected for the British and Irish Lions], who spent time at Nottingham learning his craft, and that’s what I had to do, so it was a good opportunity.
“Sitting at Edinburgh and becoming a journeyman wasn’t what I wanted and I believe a move would benefit other guys in that position. It has to be right for them, as it was for me, but as good as our Premiership is, and I’ve seen it from coaching Heriot’s this season, it’s not Championship standard.”
Two other Scots who have excelled in the English second tier are former Scotland U21 captain Neil Cochrane, who switched from flanker to hooker with Bedford and, at 29, has just signed for Premiership side Wasps, and Stevie McColl, who has been a stand-out for Leeds in their bid for promotion to the top flight. Lawrie believes both players should also be looked at by Johnson.
Swinson is another example of late development, which Scottish rugby’s small community is starting to become more alert to. Born in London to English-born parents but with Scottish grandparents, he suffered several dashed hopes before Glasgow offered the big lock forward a new start.
“When I went to university my aim was to study, play rugby for fun and go to the Army,” he said. “I’d lost all hope of playing professional rugby by then, never mind international rugby. It was a shock when I was picked up by Newcastle and then, when things got frustrating there and we were relegated, it was a surprise when Glasgow offered me a chance to come north.
“But I have to thank the squad at Glasgow for this. They have an unbelievable togetherness that made me feel positive about rugby again. It brought the enjoyment back to training, having fun in the sport, and that has been a big factor in the way I’ve played.
“Also, playing with guys like Al [Kellock], Ryan Grant, [Stuart] Hoggy and the guys made me realise the amazing amount of work you have to put in to play at the top level.”
Johnson underlined that he could have taken younger performers for experience, but that Lawrie and Swinson earned them places. He also hopes they will help lift competition levels.
Lawrie added: “I feel hugely excited at the opportunity I’ve been given, but I’m a huge believer that it’s not the opportunity that counts but what you do with it.
“I’m 29 years old now and I am not going to South Africa just to learn about what’s going on. I want to play. That [taking the jersey from Ford] is what it’s all about for me.”