Peter Horne has ‘belief in his ability’ as debut for Scotland beckons
THERE is a silver lining to the cloud of injury woes hanging over Scotland ahead of the EMC Autumn Tests, in the shape of the number seven.
That is how many uncapped players Andy Robinson has named in his 34-man squad and while most will not feature against New Zealand in the opening match, they point to new promise at the start of a new World Cup cycle.
At the helm and, possibly the most likely to make his Test debut against the All Blacks, is Peter Horne. Recently turned 23, he was a clear talent as a teenager. He and Chris Fusaro were lynchpins of the Bell Baxter High School and Howe of Fife youth teams that played at Murrayfield three times in 2007 and left with the Scottish Schools Cup – the only state school to lift the prize in the past 15 years – Scottish Youth Cup and national sevens trophy.
Over the past three seasons he has developed his physique, adding nearly two stones of weight, been forced out of the game by injury and spent a season with Scotland sevens where his sublime running and handling skills, and ability to beat a man, came to the fore.
Gregor Townsend’s influence has been integral this season, the new Glasgow coach replacing Graeme Morrison with Horne at inside centre, and encouraging the Fifer to develop in the New Zealand ‘second five-eighth’ role, as a playmaker outside the stand-off.
It is the kind of player Robinson needs to develop Scotland’s attack, shifting from a basher at 12 to a more creative player, and he was impressed by Horne’s ability to move to stand-off against Northampton when Ruaridh Jackson was injured, before his bravery in defence then brought a whack and concussion. Matt Scott is developing that role also, and though shaded by Horne on form this season, has the jersey and experience to earn the start against New Zealand.
Robinson is excited by the competition, however, and praised Horne’s skills from hand and foot, and courage. Recalling the phone call he received from Robinson the night before, Horne said: “It has been amazing. I’ve been loving every minute of this season. It has been a bit of a rollercoaster with highs and lows with injuries and things, but this shows that everything is going in the right direction now.
“I have always believed in my ability and it has been completely my own fault that I haven’t put myself into a position like this before. I’ve struggled to put consistent performances together and this is the first time that I’ve really had a run of games in the first team at Glasgow, so things are looking up.
“Gregor has told me exactly how he wants me to play. We’ve talked a lot about playing off second receiver and trying to put more to our game, especially in attack. Gregor has been working hard with me on my passing under pressure, making sure that I can get the ball through my hands and am not getting tackled and stopping our attack.
“Sevens helped me a lot with that last season and when you have wingers like Sean [Lamont], DTH [van der Merwe] and Tommy [Seymour] it’s just a case of giving them the ball. If I do my job I know they’ll do theirs.”
Horne is joined by four other Glasgow Test newcomers, the Tennessee-born Seymour, centre Alex Dunbar, scrum-half Henry Pyrgos and Peter Murchie, the form full-back, while Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist have been rewarded for their form for Edinburgh with call-ups.
Injuries may have opened the door for some of them, but they are typical of the talent that lies just underneath the surface in Scottish rugby, but which can struggle for opportunities to shine and develop in the suffocating two-team pro game.
It is pleasing to see Horne emerge, and his close friend Fusaro will follow soon, and it will be intriguing to see whether Robinson is ready to give youth its chance and throw one or two in against New Zealand.
Horne added: “As clichéd as it sounds, it would be a dream come true [to face New Zealand]. It would be good to get out there and play and try to put in a good performance, and amazing to test yourself against the best players in the world.
“There are still two weeks to go, and I need to show what I’ve got and not let my standards drop. I am quite emotional and bouncy about the Glasgow camp, and like to have my say in things, but I don’t want to be that guy who comes in first of all and is mouthy, so any chat will be positive and about having fun.
“I know most of the boys and can’t wait to meet the rest, and I’m sure everything’s going to be sweet.”
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