Rugby: Gillies racing to the top

FINLAY GILLIES admits there was a serious problem to be overcome when, initially, he set sporting sights on becoming a jockey just like his brother, Campbell.

"All my early life was spent around stables with my mother and grandfather both being owners ... and then I discovered I was allergic to horses," admitted the 21-year-old rising rugby star, who added: "Even if I hadn't grown too big for the saddle, goodness knows how many antihistamine tablets I'd have ended up taking!"

Instead, Finlay turned to rugby, moving from Haddington to Heriot's and the sport of kings' loss was confirmed as the oval ball scene's gain with a nomination as the annual recipient of the John Macphail scholarship enabling him to spend the summer playing in Auckland, New Zealand.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While Campbell has to overcome fences on a daily basis, Finlay's metaphorical obstacles have tended to be based on size.

Standing 5ft 5in tall and weighing 75kg (11st 10lb) Finlay found himself entering rugby as a scrum-half before seeing service at centre then back row.

"Eventually, enough people kept telling me that to make a future for myself in rugby I should try hooker which was the position that would best suit me."

Finlay has never looked back in gaining Scotland caps at under-18, under-19 and under-20 levels albeit a neck injury sustained at last year's world championships in Japan stalled progress and was compounded by ankle damage while training his way to fitness.

"Hopefully, now those injuries, for which I received fantastic treatment through the national academy, can work to my advantage in leaving me fresher for the challenge this New Zealand trip brings.

"I made it back in time to play a dozen games for Heriot's who were also very patient throughout my traumas in allowing me to train with the team while knowing I wasn't going to be playing at the weekend," says Finlay, who has represented East Lothian county at both volleyball and badminton as well as being a top-50 ranked Scottish table tennis player.

"I'll spend the weeks before heading off on 29 April trying to put on a bit of extra bulk then hit the ground running in New Zealand where there will be so much to live up to looking at the calibre of previous recipients."

These include 18-cap Scotland flanker John Barclay as well as Roddy Grant who has used an Edinburgh contract as a springboard to Scotland A honours this season and was on stand-by for a debut cap at the tail-end of the Six Nations.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Latest winner was Lewis Niven whose award of a full-time deal with Edinburgh, just announced, can act as a spur to the ambitious Gillies.

Niven is in no doubt experiences in Auckland under the scheme which perpetuates the memory of an ex-Scotland player – coincidentally from the same Edinburgh Accies club he currently represents – have helped propel him towards his goal of a professional career.

And Niven acknowledges he doesn't have to look far for a role model at Edinburgh.

"Kyle Traynor is a year older than me and a second year professional but already he has made it into the Scotland team this season" said Niven, who added: "I'm under no illusions, though, about how tough it is going to be to break through.

"Not only are the likes of Kyle, Allan Jacobsen and Ryan Grant around but there's David Young and Geoff Cross specialising on the tight-head of the scrum where I've been playing.

"I've been fortunate to have been given the chance to train with the Edinburgh guys and draw on their experience before a broken finger set me back a bit.

"Now I've recovered and looking forward to helping Edinburgh Accies stay in Division One by beating Heriot's next week (a Watsonians defeat at Melrose on Saturday would leave them safe] before concentrating fully on my pro career."

Meanwhile, national academy coach Steve Gemmell has already turned his thoughts to finding the 2011 Macphail scholarship winner in taking note of the Scotland under-19 side's 30-25 win over France at the weekend.

"The popularity of the Macphail scholarship has grown to the extent there is real competition with the initial short list containing around 12 candidates before being whittled down to four."