Rugby: Edinburgh starlet awarded a prestigious scholarship

Edinburgh RUGBY rookie Gregor Hunter is determined to use a trip in the footsteps of New Zealand’s World Cup-winning captain Richie McCaw to ensure the club’s sojourn into the knock-out stages of the Heineken European Cup is repeated next season.

While Edinburgh are lining up against Toulouse in Saturday’s quarter-final, the 20-year-old stand-off will be boarding a plane for Christchurch as one of two recipients of this year’s John Macphail Scholarship, which honours the memory of a former Scotland hooker.

Along with second row Jonny Gray, brother of Scotland star Richie, Hunter will spend 18 weeks at the Lincoln University club which produced not only McCaw but two other members of the winning Webb Ellis Trophy squad – Andrew Willis and Sam Whitelock.

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Hunter, who has already made five starts in a total of ten appearances this season for Edinburgh, who have extended his contract to 2014, says: “It has been a real good season overall, especially as last season I was injured for most of the time.

“Things started particularly well in getting a lot game time (when players were at the World Cup).

“More recently, I have been in and out and sometimes on the bench while occasionally playing for Gala.

“But being given this chance has given me a new challenge and a real lift.

“Of course I might well have been made available to play for Gala in the Scottish Cup Final against Ayr at the end of this month had I remained in Scotland.

“I was in the crowd as an eight-year-old, cheering on Chris Paterson and Nathan Hines when Gala last won the Cup in 1999. But with all due respect, this was just too good a chance to miss, a chance to try to prove myself at a high level so as to get consistent game time and then come back and bid for a starting place with Edinburgh in 2012-13.”

Hunter debuted for Edinburgh in the opening game of the season away to Cardiff and, after notching his maiden try in the home win over Connacht, caught the eye with a visionary kick ahead which enabled Matt Scott to score a try which helped bring down Rabo Direct Pro 12 League champions Munster, also at Murrayfield.

Hunter, son of former Gala prop Hamish Hunter, added: “You only have to look at the list of those who have previously been on the Scholarship (founded eight years ago) to see how well it works.”

Previous recipients include Scotland regular John Barclay and Lewis Niven, who had his contract extended by Edinburgh this season.

“Of the group which has gone to Christchurch, Grant Gilchrist and Harry Leonard have been figuring prominently for Edinburgh and, from what I have heard, although I have never previously been outside Europe myself, New Zealand is the perfect environment in which to improve your rugby.”

Last year’s crop, which also included Stewart’s Melville and Edinburgh development hooker George Turner, were caught up in the fall-out from the Christchurch earthquake and Hunter is sensitive to how the situation has left a local community brittle.

“In some small way,” he says, “I’d like to play a part in helping Christchurch get back to normal by involving myself as much as possible with the community. The plan is for Jonny and myself to stay with local families and we are both going out to develop as people as well as rugby players.”