CHRIS Cusiter is determined to prove himself worthy of his recall to the Scotland squad – and to show he deserves a place in Vern Cotter’s Rugby World Cup squad later this year.
The Sale Sharks scrum-half was brought back into the fold yesterday as cover for Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who is doubtful for Saturday’s game against Italy after getting a head knock in the loss to Wales. Cusiter’s omission from the squad for the first two games in the Six Nations Championship came as a shock to him – at 32, it was the first time since his debut that he had been left out although fit to play – but he insisted yesterday that it only made him all the more eager to demonstrate that he still has a lot to offer.
“It hurt a little bit,” he said of the phone call from assistant coach Duncan Hodge that let him know he was out. “I stood in the kitchen when I took the call and my wife was in the living room and I just sat there for about 45 minutes, thinking ‘It’s not much fun getting dropped’. I still feel fit and I’m really enjoying rugby. I think I’m playing well and feel I can offer something, but selection is a personal opinion.
“Duncan said it was a close, tough call. Goal-kicking came into it from what I understand. I wouldn’t back myself as a goal- kicker. Greig [Laidlaw], Henry [Pyrgos] and Sam are good goal-kickers. I’m not a goal-kicker and I’m not used to being judged on that. I suppose that came into it due to the make-up of the squad.
“Duncan let me down gently. I’ve known him a long time and I know it wasn’t an easy situation for him either. You ask a few questions to try to find out what you can do to get back in, but it’s tough.”
As it turned out, Cusiter would have been unable to play against France because of a ligament strain he picked up on club duty, but he has played in Sale’s last two games and feels ready to go. He knows, however, that he may not get the chance this week if Hidalgo-Clyne – a player he rates highly – is passed fit to play.
“Gav Scott, the team manager, phoned to say I was back in the squad. I heard that Sam was going through his concussion protocol. They needed cover.
“I could be here for two days and head back, but it’s nice to be up and try and get up to speed. So whatever reason I get involved, I’m ready.
“I would never take it for granted, but I thought I’d make the training squad,” Cusiter continued when asked if he had been surprised to get left out at the start of the campaign. “There was a lot of competition to make the match squad.
“I saw Sam in January and I thought he was playing really well. He’s got real pace and real talent, and I knew he would come through at some point. I was hoping it wouldn’t be when I was still around, but fair play to him, he did come through quickly. I know I’m getting older. Things move on. I’m 32 and there are not that many guys playing international rugby who are above 30. It’s a young man’s game. If you’re fit and playing well and regularly you always think you have a chance.
“If you’re around long enough in this game then you will have disappointments and setbacks. You’ve just got to get back on the horse and be determined to get back involved.
“It’s a real goal of mine to play in the Six Nations and to make the World Cup. Last time [the 2011 World Cup] I was just coming back from injury so I wasn’t in a great position to state my case. I still feel that things can change and I can play a big part.
“You have to have goals. It’s important to have them to keep you pushing forward and motivated and that’s one of mine. If I keep training hard and stating my case we’ll see what happens.”
After being an established member of the squad for much of his career, Cusiter feels the status of being almost an outsider can help him be determined to assert himself. “For me, it’s always helped to have that underdog thing going on. Not making the squad, I thought ‘Right, I’ll tell you what, I’ll play as well as I can and you have to pick me’. I was pretty disappointed for a couple of days, but it does strengthen your resolve for sure.”
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