SCOTTISH rugby’s drive to become more consistent on the pro and Test stages has been boosted by the decisions of more of Edinburgh and Glasgow’s brightest young prospects to pledge their futures to the home cause.
After David Denton signed a new deal last week, lock Grant Gilchrist has followed suit with a new contract taking him from next summer to the summer of 2016. Like Denton, he was also being tracked by leading clubs outside Scotland but insisted he never thought about a move elsewhere.
Over at Glasgow, centre Alex Dunbar has agreed a three-year deal up to May 2017, just 18 months after being made to sweat until almost the end of the season before being offered a chance to stay in the game at Glasgow. It is crucial to the Scottish team’s future that Denton, Gilchrist and Dunbar, along with centre Mark Bennett, stand-off Finn Russell and others in the pipeline, stay in Scotland. But it is a debating point whether it is better for young Scottish players to leave Scotland, where the benefit of regular rest has to be balanced for some against the lack of regular game-time when up against Scotland rivals in the same team.
For Gilchrist, the decision was simple. “I had no real reason to leave this club,” he said. “We are moving in a great direction and my role here has developed over time. I’ve gone from being a young player two seasons ago to having a bit of responsibility in the squad now and taking more of a lead.
“With the new coaching structure, this is a place I want to be. For me, the decision was easy. A couple of people [other clubs] had been in touch, but I didn’t go out looking for anything. It is good for me to see other young Scottish players like Dents [Denton] signing back on. We have added a few this season and I think the squad is really coming together.
“I am 23 and I have a lot to learn still. I’ve been lucky to get four caps so I have a bit of international experience, and my goal over the next couple of years is to push on there. That will come from my performances with Edinburgh, and I hope I can use this as a launchpad to further my international career.”
Dunbar, who won his first three caps in the summer and makes his 50th appearance for Glasgow today, said: “I’m very happy to be staying at Scotstoun for the next three years. My game has really developed since I signed a professional contact with the club and I’m enjoying working with the coaches and players we have here.
“I’m still young so I’ve got a lot to learn and I want to continue to work hard to develop my game. It was a real honour to make my Scotland debut in the summer and playing for the Warriors made that possible. I am very ambitious and I want to win things in Glasgow and I believe we have a squad capable of doing that.”
Glasgow head coach Gregor Townsend said: “This is a really good signing for the club,” he said. “The future of this club is not just about what’s happening over the next six months but about the next few years. It’s important we sign and re-sign the players we believe can take this club forward, and Alex is certainly one of those players.
“Alex is someone that’s been here for a few years and has progressed year-on-year and is now a test-level player.
“What he does really well is catch the ball at pace and he’s very strong in contact. He’s developing his passing game and is one of our best defensive players, so I’m absolutely delighted that he’s signed on for three more years.”
Both Gilchrist and Dunbar are talented individuals but they are also young players eagerly taking on extra responsibility, the centre in leading Glasgow’s defensive line and becoming a bigger presence in attack and Gilchrist leading the lineout at Edinburgh more regularly. It is that kind of player that the pro teams require as they seek the consistency to become title contenders, but there is a responsibility on such talents, too, to push on and prove that staying at home does not always equate to the safe, easy option, starting with performances in today’s 1872 Cup clash at Murrayfield.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH GINGER GROUSE