THE meteoric rise of Finn Russell continued yesterday when he was named as one of six uncapped players who will be involved in the national team’s grand tour of three continents – taking in games against the USA, Canada, Argentina and South Africa – this summer.
The trip is being split into two distinct sections with Russell doing the North American leg. Given that Tom Heathcote is the only other frontline stand-off on that part of the tour, it is almost certain the Stirling-born youngster, who played a key role in guiding Glasgow Warriors to an historic victory over Munster in the RaboDirect Pro12 play-off semi-final on Friday night, will return to these shores a fully-fledged internationalist.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be called up for your country. It’s probably still not sunk in yet, but I’ll get there. Two months ago I was playing for Ayr down in Gala, and now to be called up for the summer tour, it’s huge. I suppose there are only two pro teams in Scotland, so if you are starting for one of them then you’ve got a chance,” he said.
“We’ve selected, effectively, two squads for our itinerary this summer taking into account Glasgow Warriors’ pursuit of Pro12 silverware and the fact that our match against South Africa falls outwith the IRB Regulation 9 window,” said new head coach Vern Cotter. “We’ve included a mix of the battle-hardened and promising new talent and it will be good to see how players step up to tough and different challenges at the end of a long domestic campaign.”
Russell has taken every step up the Scottish rugby ladder in his stride, and the early indications are that this happy knack will continue when he does get his big chance.
“I guess it will be a different trial for me – but, I don’t know, I just like to chill out and not think about it too much. I sort of keep the situation of the game out of mind and just get down to what I always do whether it is playing at Ayr or Glasgow, or maybe now Scotland,” he said.
“I try to not let the situation faze me. I try to just play the same game every week, no matter who I’m playing for. If I have to talk in front of the boys at a team meeting then I’m not really too comfortable doing that, but I have a bit more confidence on the pitch than I do off it…if that makes sense.”
This selection is an impressive achievement by the 21-year-old playmaker, but it wasn’t a huge shock given the panache he has shown in recent weeks when usurping both Duncan Weir and Ruaridh Jackson to put himself top of the pile in the contest to wear the Glasgow Warriors’ No 10 jersey. The two new faces in this tour party who have really come from left field are front-rowers Alex Allan and Kevin Bryce. While Russell has at least managed ten starts for the Warriors and four appearances off the bench during his short time in professional rugby, they have accumulated a grand total of 107 minutes of pro rugby between them, through six appearances off the bench.
Allan is the younger but more experienced of this duo with 61 minutes of playing for Edinburgh under his belt, including two Heineken Cup appearances off the bench against Munster and Saracens in January 2013. He also made his Scotland A debut off the bench against England Saxons in January. The 22-year-old prop has been on an Elite Development Player programme with Edinburgh these last two years, but recently signed a full-time professional contract with the Warriors which will run through to the summer of 2016. Most of his recent rugby has been with Edinburgh Accies in the RBS Premiership.
Bryce, meanwhile, has spent most of this season playing for club side Heriot’s. He has made two bench appearances for the Warriors against the Dragons and Treviso, and although he does have the advantage of already being a full-time professional, he admits to being left truly flabbergasted when Scotland forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys told him to put his summer holiday plans on ice. “I didn’t think this was ever going to happen, and especially not in my first year as a professional. I’ve only played 46 minutes for Glasgow, so to get the call was a massive shock,” he said. “I’ve basically played for Heriot’s all season so somebody must like what I do or see something in me.
“There are six of us [hookers at Glasgow] so it is pretty hard. Pat MacArthur and Dougie Hall take up the first two spots so it is a case of keeping going and learning off these guys knowing the chance will come. This is going to be a massive learning experience. I hope [to get capped], you never know, injuries do happen so I will take my opportunities with both hands and see where it goes.”
The other three uncapped players in the squad are Warriors prop Gordon Reid, London Irish flanker Blair Cowan and Edinburgh scrum-half Grayson Hart.
Scotland squad for the Test matches v USA and Canada (italics denote uncapped players)
Forwards: Alex Allan (Glasgow Warriors); Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier); Kelly Brown (Saracens); Kevin Bryce (Glasgow Warriors); Blair Cowan; Geoff Cross (both London Irish); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby); Richie Gray (Castres); Jim Hamilton (Montpellier); Scott Lawson (Newcastle Falcons); Kieran Low (London Irish); Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs); Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors); Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors); Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) and Kyle Traynor (Bristol Rugby).
Backs: Chris Cusiter (Sale Sharks); Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors); Max Evans (Castres); Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby); Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester); Sean Lamont; Sean Maitland; Finn Russell (all Glasgow Warriors); Duncan Taylor (Saracens) and Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby).
Scotland squad for Test matches v Argentina and South Africa (italics denote uncapped players)
Forwards: Kevin Bryce (Glasgow Warriors); Geoff Cross (London Irish); David Denton; Alasdair Dickinson; Ross Ford (all Edinburgh Rugby); Chris Fusaro (Glasgow Warriors); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh Rugby); Jonny Gray; Rob Harley (both Glasgow Warriors); Moray Low (Exeter Chiefs); Pat MacArthur, Gordon Reid (both Glasgow Warriors); Tim Swinson; and Jon Welsh (both Glasgow Warriors).
Backs: Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors); Dougie Fife; Grayson Hart (both Edinburgh Rugby); Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne (both Glasgow Warriors); Ruaridh Jackson (London Wasps), Sean Maitland; Peter Murchie; Henry Pyrgos; Tommy Seymour; and Duncan Weir (all Glasgow Warriors).