If Edinburgh’s rousing second-half fightback to claim a shock win against Stade Francais in the European Challenge Cup at Murrayfield on Saturday felt like emerging from a long dark tunnel into glorious sunshine, then the man-of-the-match performance from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne was an added bonus which must have had the team’s long-suffering supporters wondering if Christmas had arrived early.
Eighteen months ago, the scrum-half was one of the hottest properties in Scottish rugby: a fearless maverick at the base of the scrum, with the pace of a winger and a killer instinct when hunting out attacking opportunities.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when things started to stall, but by the start of this season Hidalgo-Clyne seemed to have dropped to third in the scrum-half pecking order at the club.
He had been a member of the Scotland squad at the 2015 World Cup, but was nowhere near the reckoning for the national team’s recent autumn Test series, despite the unavailability of Henry Pyrgos through injury. The 23-year-old was stuck on the outside looking in as Ali Price of Glasgow Warriors emerged as the natural ying to Greig Laidlaw’s yang in the dark blue No 9 jersey.
Frankly, Edinburgh (and Scottish rugby, for that matter) cannot afford to let a player of Hidalgo-Clyne’s ability drift out of the reckoning, but that seemed to be what was happening. Then, two weeks ago, his fortunes started to change.
When asked if he has started doing anything differently in order to force his way into the frame at Edinburgh, Hidalgo-Clyne shakes his head.
“Probably not, I’m working just as hard. I’m probably just getting more of an opportunity and I need to make sure I take it this time,” he said.
“The coaches told me to just keep working on my game management and my core skills like passing, so I have put a lot of effort into that and in the last couple of games I have been reaping the rewards.”
Hidalgo-Clyne was given only his third start in 12 matches so far this season for Edinburgh in an away loss to the Ospreys 12 days ago, then really hit his straps against Stade on Saturday evening – scoring the home team’s third try as they battled back from 20-3 down to achieve a remarkable 28-23 victory.
He said: “The big thing for me through the process was not forgetting my own game. I worked on game management and passing and got that up to scratch and then almost forgot about my running game when I saw opportunities. So I have had to find that balance and not forget what I am good at.”
After four defeats on the bounce in the Pro12, Saturday’s victory was exactly what interim head coach Duncan Hodge needed as he goes about making his case for being given the job on a permanent basis – and, according to Hidalgo-Clyne, it is no more than the man in charge deserves.
“Hodgey is great as a coach,” he added. “He is always looking into technical things in training and changes things up. When he needs to he will let us know his thoughts when things are going wrong.
“At times you need honesty and he has been great with us so far, so we need to start paying him back with some more good results. There is more of an ethos and mentality to really score tries and go for it, to look at our attack shape and look to counter off other teams’ mistakes.
“Because we are doing that we will make more mistakes because we are trying things and throwing offloads and it is a risk, but any good team does it and we are finding the balance at the moment.
“Our results don’t show how we have been playing. It is frustrating and it is something that we have been speaking about.
“We need to start backing up results and fly up the league by beating teams at the bottom,” added Hidalgo-Clyne.