Interview: Matt Scott, Edinburgh centre

THERE was much brouhaha when it emerged post Six Nations that the giant Welsh winger Alex Cuthbert was still on an apprentice contract with the Cardiff Blues, earning thruppence ha’penny or thereabouts until he signs full professional forms sometime over the summer.

He’s not the only one. Only recently Matt Scott was caught emerging from the elite development players’ (EDP) changing room ahead of an Edinburgh training session by the club captain. The apprentices, as we are no longer allowed to call them, get changed in a separate area to the rest of the Edinburgh squad but Greig Laidlaw suggested it was high time Scott joined the big boys. He was politely rebuffed. Never mind 12 league starts, a permanent place in the Heineken line-up and that first cap against Ireland, the 21-year-old centre is happy to keep playing a junior role ... at least for now.

“I think I am on the lowest tier of the Edinburgh wage structure,” says Scott with not the slightest hint that this discrepancy in wages bothers him in one jot. “I still get changed in the academy changing room, which is kind of weird I guess, but I’ve got an agent and I signed a new [fully professional] contract back in November which kicks in, I think, on the first of June.”

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It’s both a strength and a weakness in Scottish rugby, the paucity of numbers playing the game at a professional level. Obviously more players would create more competition for places, which must be near the top of Andy Robinson’s prayers each evening. Against that the lack of depth in the game means that talent is spotted and promoted quickly and Scott is a case in point. He started the season playing for Currie and will finish it with an appearance in the Heineken Cup semi-final (at the very least) with that international cap as the meat in the sandwich.

“It’s not really sunk in yet,” says Scott of his appearance off the bench in Dublin. “I was so happy on a personal level but it wasn’t the greatest of days for Scottish rugby. Your dream is making your first appearance for Scotland and scoring the winning try but, instead, we got a bit of a hiding from Ireland that day, especially when we went down to 14 men.

“Everyone else was all doom and gloom afterwards in the dressing room and I was masking my happiness at making my Test debut. I was dancing a jig internally but, on the outside, I was shaking my head.

“Not being involved in the Italy match was a big disappointment. As soon as you taste that atmosphere of the Six Nations you want to get out there again as soon as possible. I had at least hoped for a spot on the bench but Andy Robinson told me I had a long career ahead of me and I just had to accept his judgment.”

Scott’s emergence might not be so important if he didn’t play in such a problem position. He spent his formative years as a stand-off and is still listed as one on Edinburgh’s website. So he brings those traditional playmaking qualities to his current role at inside centre, where he plays more as second five-eighth in the New Zealand style. His kicking game isn’t much utilised by Edinburgh, although that may have more to do with his lack of experience rather than any lack of ability.

Scott’s rapid rise would be remarkable at any time but he has been multitasking like a supercomputer this season, cramming the final year of a law degree at Edinburgh University between club and country commitments. He said: “I only agreed to finish my law degree in one year because I didn’t expect to be playing many games with Edinburgh. The club have given me a lot of time off to do my degree but it’s getting harder and harder to miss training sessions, especially ahead of these big Heineken games.

“I have just handed in my dissertation, which ran to 25 pages and, thankfully, the university gave me a one-week extension because of the Heineken Cup.”

At least a Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse in front of 38,000 fans makes a change from the traditional the-dog-ate-my-homework excuse that is the student’s staple. Unlike his solitary Scotland game, last weekend’s quarter-final had a happy ending and may be the highlight of his rugby career to date, although Scott is too politic to say so.

“The forward effort didn’t surprise us,” he says, “but I think it surprised Toulouse. They came with a plan to kick for territory and then pressure our set piece but our forwards were brilliant. We proved that we have more to our game than just the harum scarum stuff, that we can play with a bit of grunt, so all we need to add now is consistency. We don’t want to pull off that sort of performance and then go and get pumped off Aironi the next weekend.

“Our league form will come good if we retain our best players and maybe add one or two more. I think this Edinburgh team can hold their own against anyone and we will be targeting the [Pro12] play-offs next year because, if Glasgow can do it, then we can.”

In the meantime Scott has his final two law exams to squeeze in around the Heineken Cup semi-final against Ulster on 28 April, Edinburgh’s run in the RaboDirect and all the rest of his hectic life.

“People always assume that I am a really organised person but I’m just a young man and, if I’m honest, I’m not the world’s greatest multi-tasker.”

Given what he’s achieved this season he’s not the worst either.