SCOTTISH rugby has long looked across the world to the emergence of youngsters such as Wallaby James O’Connor and wondered why such rapid promotion was not possible here.
But the tide is turning. Stuart Hogg ended a 19-year wait for a teenage cap when he made his Scotland debut against Wales in the recent RBS Six Nations Championship. Gregor Townsend had been the last, while it was 40 years since a teenager, like Hogg, scored on his first start for Scotland – Jim Renwick in 1972.
Scotland head coach Andy Robinson, encouraged by former assistant Townsend and Glasgow coach Sean Lineen, handed eight Edinburgh and Glasgow players their debuts or first starts in the 2012 Six Nations
They were Lee Jones, David Denton, Greig Laidlaw and Matt Scott from the capital and Glasgow quartet Hogg, Duncan Weir, Ed Kalman and Jon Welsh. Some got their opportunity due to injuries but they deserved the chance and another five uncapped men have been named for the summer tour, adding to the sense of freshness in the Scottish camp.
Hogg and Weir remain the babies of the party at 20 and 21 respectively. Rob Harley, the youngest of the new tour faces, is 21, with Tom Brown recently turned 22, Tim Visser 24, Ryan Grant 26 and Tom Ryder 27.
Having stepped from the shadow of his mentor Chris Paterson in Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup matches against Toulouse and Ulster, Brown epitomises the confidence they bring.
Yet, the former pupil of Law Primary in North Berwick and Edinburgh Academy, admits to being inspired by Hogg, now his rival for Scotland’s full-back jersey, and the development of a possible opponent down under in O’Connor.
“As you grow up you always think that it [a Scotland cap] is so far in the distance,” Brown said, “but seeing the boys come through this year has been great for Scottish rugby and it does make you realise just how close it is. He [Hogg] has had a great season and done really well. He got his opportunity early on and he took it, which was brilliant for him. For me, it was a fight to get into the Edinburgh starting XV but, by the end of the season, I had kind of claimed that 15 jersey and played in the Heineken quarter and semi-finals.
“Those were huge challenges. The Toulouse game was the first time I started at full-back for Edinburgh, in front of nearly 40,000 at Murrayfield, and it was a huge step-up. It was nerve-wracking the whole week, but as soon as I stepped on that pitch all the nerves went and it came naturally for me.
“I don’t think age matters much. James O’Connor is similar in age to me and he has a similar build and playing style, and I’ve watched him since he got his first cap at 17. He’s been an inspiration. I was hoping he was going to be in the under-20s World Cup but he was involved with the main squad at that time, so to play against someone like him on this tour would be great, although I know that he’s struggling with injury right now.
“I’m hopefully pushing for the [Scotland] 15 jersey, but I think it’s an exciting time for Scottish rugby with guys like Stuart Hogg, Lee Jones, David Denton, Matt Scott and others. I’m happy to be another one of those young boys pushing for spaces. Andy Robinson said that when I go out there I should just go for it and not shy away. That’s what I want to do – really make an impact.”
Harley was one of a clutch of players very close to Scotland’s World Cup squad but the flanker/lock turned his disappointment into a positive with a fine start to the season as Glasgow skipper. He said: “That played a big part in developing my game. Having to lead made me more rounded as a player. I had to balance the individual things against the jobs you have to do as a captain, where you are thinking about the rest of the game and trying to think tactically at the same time.
“I was not sure [of a call-up] at all. I was just sitting by the computer clicking ‘update’ on the e-mails very nervously and, when it landed, it was just a moment of happiness. Now, I am hoping that I can use the experience with Glasgow and of being in the Scotland training squad and really show something.”
Scottish rugby has seen cycles of young talent before but there is an excitement over the number stepping up this year and their skill and confidence that has perhaps not been felt since the mid to late 1980s.
But the challenge for Robinson and new coach Scott Johnson is to find a winning blend between the newcomers – 11 are on their first senior tour – and the experienced core that has made Scotland competitive but delivered little, and lift Scotland back into the world’s top ten.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 19 June 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 20 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North