Gloucester Rugby lost one little Scottish scrummy in the summer when Greig Laidlaw high-tailed it to Clermont and the Top 14 but the Cherry and Whites replaced him with another, little Scottish scrum-half...or so we thought.
Ben Vellacott is one of the new style scrum-halves to emerge in the game, active dynamos who pose a threat with the ball in hand, an Ali Price in the making albeit less experienced. He is properly quick across the ground and only last season he claimed four tries in a single match against Fylde.
Vellacott says that he received a heap of help from Laidlaw while he was in Gloucester’s academy and playing for Hartpury, even though the two nines are at opposite ends of the scrum-half spectrum: Laidlaw the master tactician, the younger man all action and energy.
Difficult to believe but Vellacott is even shorter than his erstwhile mentor, standing just 5ft 6½in, which must make him the smallest player in the Aviva. “I rely on my pace to stay away from the big guys”, he says, which seems like good sense. Glasgow approached him about one year ago but nothing came of it.
More recently the former England and Gloucester scrum-half Andy Gomarsall had this to say of the man who is currently fighting for his old shirt:
“Vellacott looks a very exciting player to come off the bench when defences are tired to cause trouble. He is very promising and certainly seems to have the quality to be a future international scrum-half. International rugby is a completely different level but what I like about him is that he is an incredibly quick, raw athletic talent.”
His mum hails from Peterhead and the man in question played all his age-grade rugby for Scotland at 17s, 18s and two seasons with the 20s alongside the likes of Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Richie and Zander Zagerson. You’d be forgiven for thinking that that makes him Scottish, but you’d be wrong.
Vellacott is not “captured” until he plays for the Scotland Sevens, the largely unloved Scotland A-team or the senior side. The player is reluctant to talk about his nationality at all but he gives us a clue to his thinking when he mentions friends of his who can’t get a contract in England for all the wrong reasons.
“Wales cap (capture) you at 20s,” he says, and Steven Shingler will back him up, “which is why a lot of boys who are Welsh qualified try not to play for the 20s, so they can play in England.
“I have numerous friends who have come over from Wales or come down from Scotland, they have played in the Welsh or Scottish sevens and then they are stuck because (English) clubs aren’t willing to use them because they can get better foreign players.”
The RFU pay good money for clubs to field a majority of English qualified players (EQP) in their match day squad, 16 in the Championship, 15 in the top flight. As well as being qualified to play for Scotland, Vellacott is EQP, which is the equivalent of holding Willy Wonka’s golden ticket for a promising young player looking for a contract in England.
This may be the reason that Vellacott is reluctant to talk about his nationality other than saying that he would jump at the chance to play international rugby for any team but, in his first season as a full-time professional player, he has to focus on the day job.
England already have all the advantages of size, numbers and financial clout behind them. The RFU’s well intentioned incentives to ensure the top English leagues remain largely English are having the effect of driving players away from the three Celtic nations.
That is not the RFU’s problem, you may suppose, and you might be right but if Eddie Jones’ England want to supplant New Zealand as the dominant force in world rugby, and don’t be fooled into believing anything else, they need the Celtic nations and the Six Nations Championship to be as strong as possible.
And that won’t happen while the Celts are unable to access their own diaspora.