Rory Hutchinson speaks on Scotland's Six Nations, his World Cup heartache, and nailing down a place in Gregor Townsend's team
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, so the saying goes, and many Scottish rugby fans will be hoping that the current ‘snafu’ in the national team camp can be swiftly smoothed over.
Star stand-off Finn Russell’s expulsion from the squad days ahead of the Six Nations following an alcohol-related “breach of team protocol” has thrown a cat among the pigeons that would give Larry of Downing Street a run for his Whiskas.
What will be will be, life goes on and, in the meantime, while Russell will play no part in the opening match away to Ireland, opportunity knocks for others.
It is almost certain that Adam Hastings will fill that dark blue No 10 jersey at the Aviva Stadium this weekend. Duncan Weir has been added to the squad that is now preparing in Spain, but head coach Gregor Townsend has other options available in his old playmaker position.
Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson was a surprise omission for many from last year’s World Cup squad but he is firmly back in the mix now and, although now establishing himself as a first-rate midfielder in the English Premiership, he did play all five games of the 2015 Under-20 Six Nations Championship, in which Scotland recorded their highest ever tournament finish of third.
“I have done some training sessions covering 10,” said the 23-year-old. “I used to play there at under-20s. It’s another string to the bow. I can cover. I’m always happy to step in. I quite like stepping in at first receiver.
“As a back, as a 12 who distributes a lot, it’s a great habit to get into. Step up to first receiver, get the confidence and everything like that. Whether it be at 12 getting the ball off nine or being at 10, just being able to direct the team is always a great skill to have.
“I like getting my hands on the ball so wherever that will be and wherever he puts me, I’ll do my best. I don’t mind, I have no preference but I like getting my hands on the ball. Wherever I’m put, I’ll give 100 per cent.”
For Cambridge-born Hutchinson, just being back in the Scotland squad and aiming to add to the three senior caps, whether it be at centre of stand-off, he has so far is enough.
“It’s great to be back in camp,” he said. “I feel a bit more at ease because I’ve played with the boys now - even more of them now I came up with through the Under-20s. It’s been great, I’m fitting in well and really enjoying myself.”
Hutchinson made three appearances during the four-Test World Cup warm-up series last summer, scoring two tries in the away trip to Georgia. Many felt he had impressed sufficiently but he just missed out on selection.“I watched every game. It was frustrating not to be out there, but I watched every game very closely,” he said.
“Losing those two big games [against Ireland and Japan] - obviously it was not ideal. We went out there with a goal and to train in the summer, knowing how hard we worked, not to be able to get the results we wanted was disappointing.
“We’re on to the next challenge and the Six Nations now, and we’re really looking forward to it.”
While the stand-off situation has suddenly become up for grabs, Hutchinson is focused on the centre position he has nailed down at Franklin’s Gardens following some injury setbacks early in his career.
“I’m not sure if I was proving a point,” he said of that World Cup disappointment. “I just knew that I had to get on with it. I went back to Northampton and just played rugby, and that’s helped me by being able to come back into the camp.
“I wanted to get back and play rugby, that’s all I could do. You get better every time you play and for me it’s about getting consistent rugby and I’ve been getting that at Northampton.”
Hutchinson has had a taste of representing his country at BT Murrayfield but knows that to do so in a Six Nations match would be another level.
“It’d be great. Hopefully I do get the opportunity and to play in a tournament that’s so big, it’d be brilliant,” he said. “But I’ve got to do the hard graft now, I’ve got to deserve the place. At the moment, there are some great centres so I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“The summer was great, it was all new to me. Playing at Murrayfield was amazing, playing France is always great with the atmosphere so to be able to play in such a big tournament like this would be great, where it means something rather than the warm-up games.”