Utterson horn blasts with pride

THE selection of Kevin Utterson, to make his Scotland debut against France in tomorrow’s RBS Six Nations Championship encounter, has caused a headache for the Royal Mail.

At around 6am today, Utterson’s father was rifling through letters in the Duns sorting office in a feverish attempt to find the match tickets which will allow him to see his son take his international bow. A Kelso travel agent was already struggling under the weight of late bookings for Paris this week after word got out that the 26-year-old Borders player had been called into he Scotland side.

However, there was growing concern in the Utterson household last night when eight tickets, meant for close family and friends, failed to appear.

His father Norman, who lives in the Berwickshire village of Gordon, near Kelso, said: "You wouldn’t believe it would you? We’ve watched Kevin all over Europe, and never had problems, and then he wins his first cap and the tickets don’t arrive!

"They were sent first class on Thursday by the hotel in Edinburgh where the team stayed before leaving for Paris, but we’re still waiting. I’ve spoken to the Royal Mail and I’m going into the sorting office as soon as they open at six, because we’ve got to check in at Edinburgh Airport at 7.15am.

"There is no way I won’t be on that flight. We’re absolutely delighted for Kevin, and the way we feel at the moment we’d parachute into the stadium to make sure we saw his Scotland debut!"

The player himself was tucked away in the plush team hotel in Chantilly, but he stressed yesterday that his family have played a big part in his career.

"I’m going to dedicate my first cap to my grandpa George Black, who died three years ago," said Utterson. "He was my greatest supporter and always encouraged me to keep hold of my ambition to play for Scotland, when sometimes things were tough.

"I’m disappointed he won’t be here to see me finally achieve it, but I know my family are coming over with a lot of people from Gordon and Kelso."

A gifted athlete, who like fellow Scotland internationals Gregor Townsend and Nikki Walker represented the Borders at football, Utterson has never seemed drawn by the bright lights of professional rugby. He is renovating a house, but is yet to leave the comforts of his parents’ home in Gordon and has seemed much happier back at the Borders than he was at Edinburgh.

However, his ‘que sera, sera’ approach off the field was at odds with a steely determination on it. His mettle was severely tested when he suffered conflicting diagnoses of a back injury four years ago, but bounced back to win a contract initially with the Borders and then Edinburgh Reivers. Knee surgery and concussion hampered bids to prove himself to selectors, but, a fighter and a winner, he has never lost the desire to make it to the top.

The very fact he has succeeded at the age of 26, in an age where players are often written off by the time they turn 21, says a lot for the commitment within him, which took him through consistently high performances for the new professional side this season and for the A team over the past two seasons.

Utterson is seen by Ian McGeechan as the perfect hard-grafting foil between the orchestrating skills of Brendan Laney and creative talents of Gregor Townsend as the coach strives to sharpen a more clinical edge.

Utterson offers more than the bash-it-up style of inside centre many coaches love to fit in a neat pigeon-hole, but it is that hard, direct approach which will be vital to Scotland’s bid to create platforms in the Stade de France and create the ‘go-forward’ momentum which have become the buzz-words of the game.

Utterson admitted, however, that is has been a long wait for the recognition he believed he was due.

"I’ve felt I’ve been doing well for a while, and when you play well for the A-team over a few games you hope that it will mean a step up. It never came last season and I was pretty disappointed, but that’s in the past now.

"It was great to get involved last week and if I’m being honest I didn’t expect to be starting in only my second game with the squad.

"I had a wee hope the way the game went against Ireland that there might be a chance, but I didn’t ever expect it so I was a wee bit stunned, though delighted, when I was told I was in this week. It has been my lifetime ambition and I feel I’ve waited a while for it, so I just hope that I can perform and there will be many more to come.

"It is quite daunting to make your Scotland debut against such a quality side, in Paris, but I’m looking forward to the challenge."

He was pleased to note that Laney and Townsend will be either side of him, adding: "Gregor has obviously played with me for a while, although now he’s looking after me from outside rather than inside me. With Brendan Laney now inside it will be a great experience, and I’m looking forward to playing in the middle of them."

Being the kind of down-to-earth person he is, it was no surprise to hear Utterson speaking more of the task that lies ahead than of his own personal delight at becoming a full Scotland international.

"France are a top-quality side, and they like their running rugby, so our defence is a big thing. Defence wins games and with them liking to throw the ball from side to side we have to be right on our game. That will be a key aspect of the backs’ game, especially in the middle of the pitch.

"They have changed their stand-off and he’s a tricky wee player, so we’ve got to be on our toes with him around. But I’m also looking to see if we can get some fluid rugby going against them, get some tries on the board, and hopefully get a win over here."