Watford man finds he does miss the gap

IT'S A good feeling, pulling on an old pair of jeans and happening upon a crumpled fiver in the pocket that you had forgotten all about. Scotland coach Frank Hadden may experience a similar emotion this afternoon when he watches Saracens play Glasgow in the European Challenge Cup at Vicarage Road, with the host side fielding the forgotten man of Scottish rugby.

Iain Fullarton has eight international caps in his sock drawer, the last of which was won just two short years ago when he started the second Test against Australia. Since scaling the heights that afternoon in Sydney, the tall lock has sunk almost without trace.

A serious injury, more of which later, did not help his cause but Fullarton is desperately unlucky that, for the first time in modern history, Scottish rugby boasts an excess of big men. Second-row forwards are not quite ten-a-penny but they still come well down any Christmas wish-list that Hadden might send to Santa.

In addition to the two men who last started for Scotland, Perpignan's Nathan Hines and Glasgow skipper Ally Kellock, Hadden can scratch his chin while pondering the merits of the veteran duo of Scott Murray and Stuart Grimes or, if he's looking for a younger model, he can choose from Llanelli new boy Scott MacLeod and Glasgow's Craig Hamilton. If he were able to play fantasy rugby, Hadden would immediately swap a couple of these locks for one world-class midfield player. Fullarton is plain unlucky with the era he plays in and, at the age of 30, time is running out for him to push his way back into the international limelight.

The Saracens lock chose an interesting, and far from obvious, route to Watford for this afternoon's match. He was raised in Kelso and wore their colours for just one season while playing for the Border Reivers. He studied at Aberdeen and turned out for Dundee HSFP as a student. He moved to Edinburgh but, tired of playing third fiddle to Grimes and Murray, spent three years at Sale on Bryan Redpath's recommendation and then followed the Sharks' former coach, Steve Diamond, to Saracens.

His timing has owed more to Mickey Mouse than any Swiss precision craftsmanship. Just two years after leaving Sale, the Manchester outfit won the Guinness Premiership. It is also possible that had Fullarton remained at Edinburgh when Grimes decamped to Newcastle and Murray signed for Saracens, the Kelso man could now be in the driving seat rather than stuck on the roadside waving a hopeful thumb.

"There was a lot of pressure put on me at the time not to move," says Fullarton, "but I always considered the English Premiership the best place to challenge myself, especially as a tight five forward. The Scottish teams were stuck in the Scottish/Welsh league at the time and eight or nine hours on a bus every other weekend was not my idea of fun. I felt that the standard of rugby in England was better and I just felt that it was right for me at the time.

"I always knew that Sale had a championship in them and I have a lot of good friends up there that I keep in touch with. It was a difficult decision to come to Saracens but I still think it was a good move for me even if our results have not been quite as good as we could have wished for. I am not the type to have regrets. It's really hard to say. I would love to play for Scotland more times and I still hope to. But all I can do is play as well as I can for my club and try not to burn up inside with what might have been."

Much was made of getting local lads back in Border colours when the franchise opened its doors but, according to the Saracens man, nobody has ever picked up the phone to him.

"I have never been approached to return home," he says. "But then again I've always enjoyed my time in England at the clubs I've been at. I always believe fully in whoever I am playing for at any time. It would be good to go back to the Borders at some point but I have been lucky in that my clubs have always wanted to keep me."

Intriguingly Fullarton was another player who is well known by Hadden, who first came across him when he was a lanky schoolboy at Merchiston before coaching the lock at Edinburgh. Standing 6' 7" tall, with less fat than a supermodel, Fullarton was initially and inevitably dubbed the "new" Doddie Weir. He has since expanded to 17 and a half stone and has done well to resume his place in the Sarries second row so soon after recovering from surgery.

Severe wear and tear to his neck necessitated an operation to fuse two vertebrae together (C4 and C5 for any aspiring medics out there).

"It was my own fault really. I was playing really well at the beginning of last year and the club had gone something like seven or eight games without defeat including a win over Biarritz in the Heineken Cup. We were due to play Newcastle and I made myself available despite a sore neck.

"I reckon that if I hadn't played that match I would only have needed rest of maybe six or seven weeks, instead I have been out of the game altogether for the best part of ten months."

The enforced lay-off does not appear to have blunted his edge any as Fullarton was back in harness when his side gave Bath a fearful hurry-up just last weekend, running up a 55-23 score to give themselves a morale boost ahead of this afternoon's match against Glasgow.

According to one match report, the Saracens lineout was "much improved" but Fullarton will need to make another leap in performance if he is to match or better Alastair Kellock. The Glasgow skipper currently has the Scotland No.5 jersey that the Saracens' stalwart covets and there is no better way to make his case for inclusion in the autumn squad than overshadowing the man in possession this afternoon.

Grimes and MacLeod are both injured and Scotland are due to announce a new training squad next week. A good performance from Fullarton at Vicarage Road this afternoon and the forgotten man may finally find himself remembered in the right places.

Iain Fullarton

1976: Iain Alexander Fullarton born on the 25th April, in Edinburgh. Lives in Kelso.

1980s/1990s: Educated at Merchiston Castle school in Edinburgh, where he played rugby for the Scottish schools select and is coached by Frank Hadden.

1997: The 6ft 7ins second row joins Edinburgh Reivers.

1999: In March makes his Scotland 'A' debut in a 61-6 victory over Italy. Wins a total of 15 caps at that level.

2000: Earns his first cap for the full national side, coming on as a replacement for Scott Murray in the first test against New Zealand. Has been capped eight times for Scotland, although six of them have been as a substitute.

2001: Moves to Sale Sharks.

2004: Spends three years at the Manchester club before going to Saracens.

2006: Has played a total of 38 games in three years at Vicarage Road, although the last few months of his time there have been blighted by a back injury.