THE vibrancy currently coursing through players in the Scottish game is nowhere more manifest than in the youngster who will be wearing the No 12 jersey for Edinburgh in Saturday’s Heineken Cup opener against Saracens.
While there is much interest in whether England’s new golden boy Owen Farrell will be at inside centre or stand-off when Sarries run out at Murrayfield this weekend, fast becoming a linchpin of the Edinburgh and Scotland midfield is Matt Scott. This time last year, he was looking forward to a season combining his final year of a law degree with playing for his club Currie, hoping that he might get a call-up to play for the professionals on occasions.
Instead, a whirlwind engulfed him. With Nick De Luca away to the World Cup and Ben Cairns injured in pre-season, Scott was called up from the Currie side and went on to become one of the stars of Scottish rugby over the next ten months. He was a key figure in the Heineken Cup run, his understanding of stand-off play, where he played as a teenager, helping Greig Laidlaw to slot in at ten, and an ability to present both a strong force on direct runs and a skilful,
evasive one with slick passing skills moved him into Scotland contention.
He made his debut off the bench against Ireland when De Luca was injured pre-match and went on to replace Graeme Morrison as the first-choice inside centre on Scotland’s successful summer tour. So, despite Edinburgh’s poor start to the season, the newly-turned 22-year-old is preparing for a first Heineken Cup game of 2012-13 feeling quite different, and more confident than this time a year ago.
“Definitely,” Scott said, his excitement evident. “I felt like a wee fish in a big pond last year and I think some of the other young guys maybe did as well.
“Now, I’m hoping that I can assert myself and make a bigger impact than I did last year in this campaign. Being an international player now I have to think of myself as one of those, and have to stand up and be a leader on the pitch, in attack, defence and everything.
“I was part of that run last year and there will be guys coming in this year who haven’t been to the KO stages and I’ve got to try and assert myself in that regard. I’m definitely looking to bring what I’ve learned over the last six months to the campaign.”
The speed of his rise also created a bizarre situation where he signed his first professional two-year contract with delight in January, only for his agent, the former Scotland wing Shaun Longstaff, to re-enter negotiations on a new one on his behalf after the youngster’s return from Samoa in July.
Edinburgh confirmed this week that they had agreed a new deal, which will keep him in the capital for an extra year, through to the 2015 World Cup, at what is likely to be significantly improved terms than were agreed by the law student at the start of the year.
Scott said: “I am delighted to have signed on for that period of time. It’s indicative of what the club is doing at the moment with a group of young players coming through and a coach and captain intent on winning trophies, which is what you want to do as a player.
“I don’t think there is any reason for me to be anywhere else between now and the next World Cup so I’m more than happy to have extended my stay here.
“For someone my age, who has had a couple of caps, but is now an established international player yet, to move away a year before the World Cup, and possibly get lost in the Premiership or in France, would not be the best move.
“When I signed the two-year deal I wasn’t thinking towards the World Cup because I hadn’t been capped, and to be offered a first professional contract, and a guaranteed income for a couple of years, was important for me. Obviously, things have changed quite dramatically since I signed that, and so now to be here till the next World Cup is great for me. It was great that the club was willing to negotiate as well.”
Scott is a down-to-earth lad, and he spoke maturely about the difference between his career trajectory and that of student friends still looking for a decent job. He comes across as genuine when he says he feels “extremely lucky” to be playing rugby for a living, insisting “to have a guaranteed income for two or three years is not something to be shrugged at in this financial climate.”
He has earned everything so far, however, and what he and other young players, such as David Denton, Rob Harley, Stuart Hogg and Richie Gray, might bring in the coming seasons is one of the central reasons for optimism for students of
The expectation rises this weekend. Last season, Edinburgh opened their Heineken Cup campaign, a first for Scott, coach Michael Bradley and many others, with a surprise away win at London Irish, but the anticipation that follows a semi-final appearance is magnified now by the need to win home games to harbour hopes of qualifying again.
“I suppose there was slightly less pressure on us last year,” Scott agreed, “but we’re happy to have Saracens at home first. I’d rather have Saracens at home first than away.
“We’re looking at this campaign in a positive light; we’re not looking at losing any games. We want to win every game so it doesn’t really matter. Saracens at home first is a great opportunity for us to put a marker down and we’re not thinking about losing.
“They have big ball-carriers with [Brad] Barritt and [Joel] Tomkins in the centre, [Chris] Ashton on the wing and [Alex] Goode is playing well at full-back at the moment. They are a talented bunch of lads. We all know how physical they are, and set-piece orientated, and they have a good kicking game, but they can score tries as well and Ashton on his day is one of the best finishers in the world, so we have to be wary of that. And whoever plays ten, [Charlie] Hodgson or [Owen] Farrell can control the game well.
“It’s the Heineken Cup; it’s not a dress rehearsal. We lose this and immediately we’re facing an uphill battle to qualify, so it’s massively important to get a result this weekend and that’s focusing the minds.”
It remains a steep learning curve, but Edinburgh’s legal eagle is clearly relishing the prospect of higher challenges.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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