Henry Pyrgos ready to begin in the deep end

WITH the Scottish Rugby Union falling out of love with the old exiles system a few years ago, it is fortunate that the families of Scots-qualified players born south of the border often have a burning determination to see their off-spring represent the land of their forebears.

In his first season as a pro, English-born Henry Pyrgos finds himself starting as the Glasgow No9 Picture: SNS

Scotland has rightly been trumpeting its growth in playing numbers in recent years, but the reality remains that for every rugby player currently registered in Scotland its near-neighbours England boasts a staggering 65. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many young talents in England fail to make the grade, but as was witnessed with the success of Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s the ability of Scots coaches to find those in the south with Scots connections and tempt them north is central to Scottish rugby's ability to maximise its meagre resources.

Henry Pyrgos, who makes his competitive debut tonight for Glasgow against Leinster, is the latest example. Just turned 21, Pyrgos was born and bred in England to an English father and a mother born in Grangemouth, but raised down south. Fiona Govan, as she was christened, never forgot her roots, Henry recalling vividly how the Calcutta Cup annually divided the family home, and Glasgow have much to thank her for now.

Pyrgos came through Bryanston School, in Dorset, where his parents worked, and emerged as a talent in the English counties set-up. When he missed out on national selection, his mother quickly stepped in to ease her son's frustrations by getting in touch with fellow Scottish exiles.

Pyrgos explained: "I was a bit miffed at missing out on a call-up with the south-west at that time and my mum was keen for me to think about Scottish options.It didn't quite work out at first because a game I was due to play in for the exiles at Glasgow didn't happen, and when the Scotland U-18 selectors didn't look at me I went to New Zealand for a year out to play after school.

"But my mum had got my interest going and we had always grown up knowing the family was Scottish and English, though the surname is Cypriot. But I'd been to some under-19 camps with Scotland and when I came back from Wanganui, and started at Loughborough University, Scotland called me up to the under-20s, and the last year or so has just been a whirlwind."

That is something of an understatement. Pyrgos, who caught the eye as much with his 'skunk' hairstyle, now binned, as his varied scrum-half tricks for the under-20s, enjoyed a summer training with Edinburgh, then helped Loughborough to the British Universities title, was invited to Glasgow for trials and impressed coach Sean Lineen sufficiently that he was offered a full-time contract. The day after completing his first year exams in June he was driving to Glasgow and two days later he was enduring his first pre-season session as a pro.

The treadmill has only quickened since. The gym has become Pyrgos's second home, his frame growing by nearly two stones in the past year or so, and thoughts of sitting in the shadows learning from Chris Cusiter and Colin Gregor evaporated as that pair were sidelined by injury and Pyrgos propelled into the starting XV.

However, having stepped up with some aplomb in the pre-season friendlies, he is less nervous about what awaits in the Magners League tonight, with Ireland's Kiwi scrum-half Isaac Boss his opposite number. Most current Ireland stars are missing, but Leinster have called up Ireland No8 Jamie Heaslip and wing Shane Horgan to bolster the side, with capped hooker John Fogarty on the bench.

What will be particularly intriguing will be to see how much Leinster react to the changes in the refereeing interpretation at the breakdown where tacklers must now roll away when players with the ball hit the ground. The Dubliners have become frustrating masters at tying up players, and playing off opposition mistakes, but the new approach should favour sides more willing to attack and Pyrgos, alongside the young, but quick home back row of Ryan Wilson, Chris Fusaro and Richie Vernon, will be at the heart of Glasgow's bid to use the change to reveal a more threatening game this season.

"I can't wait for it to start now," the scrum-half added."It has been quite a learning curve, especially the amount of fitness and strength and conditioning work over the summer, and it's not quite been the learning experience watching guys like Chris (Cusiter] that I imagined, but I'm not complaining.

"If I'd not had the games against Sale and Wasps then I'd have been very nervous this week, but I enjoyed the game against Sale particularly and feel I'm learning a lot already.

"We have quite a young team so a lot of guys are in the same boat, but you look around and see a lot of talent too. I've kept track of Glasgow and Edinburgh, so you're aware of how tough this league is and the quality of players in it. There are tons of British Lions, All Blacks and Springboks, so it's pretty big.

"But this is where you want to play. It is exciting to be preparing to face Leinster now. Firhill had a great atmosphere for the Sale match, and I've been told it will be better for the league games, so I can't wait. It's been quite a year, but I'm quite happy if it keeps going the way it has."

Glasgow

15 B Stortoni (cap)

14 D Van der Merwe

1M Evans

12 G Morrison

11 F Aramburu

10 R Jackson

9 H Pyrgo

1 J Welsh

2 F Thomson

3 M Low

4 T Ryder

5 R Gray

6 R Wilson

7 C Fusaro

8 R Vernon

Subs

16 P MacArthur

17 E Kalman

18 R Grant

19 A Muldowney

20 R Harley

21 D Weir

22 H O'Hare

23 P Murchie

Leinster

15 L Fitzgerald

14 S Horgan

13 E O'Malley

12 F McFadden

11 N Morris

10 I Nacewa

9 I Boss

1 H Van der Merwe

2 R Strauss

3 S Shawe

4 N Hines

5 E O'Donoghue

6 D Ryan

7 S O'Brien (cap)

8 J Heaslip

Subs

16 J Fogarty

17 J McGrath

18 B Prescott

19 M Galarza

20 S Keogh

21 O O'Donohoe

22 I Madigan

23 E Sheridan