Centre juggling university studies with unexpected regular place in Edinburgh team
MATT Scott has surprised himself by becoming a mainstay of the Edinburgh side before he evens signs his first full-time contract with the club, but it is also causing some intrigued glances in the halls of Edinburgh University.
The former Currie High School head boy only turned 21 six weeks ago and, having played a key role in helping Edinburgh claim a rare win in England in the Heineken Cup on Saturday, is now focusing on taking on the nouveau riche of European rugby in Racing Metro 92 tomorrow night.
Yet, this evening he will be busy as usual in a university library, head buried in a pile of books pertaining to the legal world as he presses on with his final year of a law degree.
“The students on my course are panicking about dissertations and wondering how I fit in with my rugby,” he says, in his typical laid-back way, “but maybe it just hasn’t hit me quite yet.
“It’s not easy but I knew it would be like this. I’m training nine till three-ish every day and then going into the library each night to catch up.
“All my colleagues are studying throughout the day and I miss that time so I have no choice but to catch up at night, and sometimes you do just want to get home and put your feet up. The good thing is this year we have two subjects and a dissertation to write, and each subject has just one two-hour seminar a week, and I’ve managed to make most of those classes because they are on Tuesdays 4-6pm and Thursdays 11-1pm, and we tend to have team runs on Thursday with Friday games, so that fits in quite well.
“But I’ve done three years of my law degree so I’m used to juggling them both.
“This year has presented harder challenges, but the most important thing for me is to get it done now while I’m still an Elite Development Player and, hopefully, if a full-time contract opportunity presents itself, then I’ve got the law done and dusted and can focus solely on my rugby.”
Scott is not alone among rugby players seeking to have qualifications behind them, and indeed the SRU have been encouraging players in the academy system to take up some form of higher and further education, with an official now employed to guide players through options. No 8 forward Simon Taylor completed a law degree in his early days in the sport, as did Scotland scrum-half Chris Cusiter; likewise Scotland props Euan Murray and Geoff Cross qualified as a vet and a doctor respectively, but still carved out careers in professional rugby. But while many players work on part-time studies with the Open University, it is rare for a player to stick with a full-time course as intense as law.
“If I’d gone into professional rugby straight after school I might not have stuck with it,” Scott confessed. “I might have thought it was quite nice just playing rugby and not having to think about anything else.
“But I think it is something that all young players should look at, even if it’s just a part-time or college course, because you could have a long rugby career but you can be only an injury away from retirement.
“It is hard going on away trips and the boys return and can go out and chill or go and watch a movie, and I’ve got to leave them and bury my head in the books.
“You need some down-time, or you’d go mental, but there’s not much – it’s pretty much rugby or law. But it’s only another five or six months left and, in the long run, to have a law degree from Edinburgh will be worth it. Then I’ll really give rugby a crack and if it doesn’t work out I’ve got that to fall back on.”
That, however, only makes his rise to prominence even more impressive. He is one of a new wave of exciting youngsters who, handed an opportunity during the World Cup window, are displaying a blend of confidence and sheer ability that is both impressing their team-mates and helping to create a bubble of optimism. Scott has started eight of the club’s nine league and cup games this season, missing the Ospreys clash only after picking up an injury in the warm-up.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” he said. “I came into the season as an elite development player just looking to improve myself and, by the end of the two-year programme, I was hoping to have made a couple of first team appearances. But now your goals change and I’m looking to hold on to the 12 jersey for the rest of the season.”
Adding to the pleasure of the coaches, at club and international level, is the fact that Scott came through the system largely as a stand-off, but has played every game for Edinburgh as what Kiwis term a “second five-eighth” – a ball-playing inside centre. He is happy to be learning the role, pleased that his coaches want him to be more than the battering ram many 12s have become, and is developing a good relationship with another promising youngster who is at ten, Harry Leonard.
They will be tested to a degree they have not been yet, one suspects, when the human wrecking ball that is Sebastien Chabal and other Racing forwards come their way tomorrow, but, remarkably sanguine, Scott reveals the grounded sense of perspective that perhaps explains an ability to balance intensifying legal studies with a soaring rugby career. “It will be another great experience for me, but I’ve got to just keep doing what I’ve been doing and focus on our game rather than the famous faces in their side. We’ve played teams like Leinster here with all their Irish internationalists but there is a different vibe about the Heineken Cup – it’s on Sky Sports, there’s a big crowd, you’re playing a team you don’t usually play week in, week out – so there are different pressures.
“Every team is different and they have massive ball-carriers and a really good kicking game, and play a different style to London Irish, so we have to adapt our defence and tactics for this game. But it’s the same as every other game, and we’ve identified some weaknesses we think we can have a go at, so I’m looking forward to it.”