Chris Fusaro shrugs off Scotland audition blow

CHRIS Fusaro is perhaps the embodiment of a modern-day rugby professional in that he copes with the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune and still maintains the same determined spirit to make a success of himself.
Chris Fusaro was left frustrated by the New Years Day 1872 Cup washout. Picture: SNSChris Fusaro was left frustrated by the New Years Day 1872 Cup washout. Picture: SNS
Chris Fusaro was left frustrated by the New Years Day 1872 Cup washout. Picture: SNS

He is one of many players, however, alongside Scotland coach Scott Johnson who will be cursing the postponement of a second Glasgow home match in succession and the damage it may do to his hopes and plans for the RBS Six Nations Championship.

The openside flanker was due to lead Glasgow Warriors into battle with Edinburgh on New Year’s Day, but the torrential rain put paid to that. It was particularly frustrating for Fusaro as his form dipped towards the end of the year with the ignominy of being replaced before half-time in the Heineken Cup debacle in Cardiff which signalled the beginning of the end of Glasgow’s quarter-final hopes.

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The 24-year-old came off the bench in the first 1872 Cup derby at Murrayfield to play a key role in wresting momentum back from Edinburgh and helping the Warriors to a 20-16 victory, so was desperate to replicate that form from the start and push back into the thoughts of a Scotland coach who had tipped him for a Test breakthrough this season.

Fusaro is more phlegmatic than might be expected in the circumstances, with Glasgow coach Gregor Townsend just as likely to leave him out of the next game against Exeter under his rolling programme of team changes.

But he admitted: “It’s very hard to take, especially with it being the 1872 Cup. Everyone wants to play in the big derby games and it is just very frustrating because all the boys were ready to go, the mindset was very good and we felt very confident going into the game. We had a few things to put right, so it’s very frustrating.

“It’s also a massive honour to be named as captain, so to get the game called off makes it all the more disappointing.”

But Fusaro remained upbeat and when asked whether he believed the postponement was detrimental to his Scotland chances, he said: “It is the best opportunity you have to go against your opposite man vying for that jersey, but first and foremost, with Europe probably not on the cards anymore, our aim is to get silverware in the league and that is what I am focusing on.

“It’s more about Glasgow. Our performances have not been up to scratch, so it’s just about doing it for the team at the moment. We have to draw together collectively. But the more we play as a team that is a massive strength, and I think our performances will get better.”

Fusaro might not yet see himself as an internationalist-in-waiting, but should with Scotland crying out for a quick, tough, openside, accurate on the ground to ensure quick ball for his players and slow opponents. John Barclay seems to have dropped from favour and Ross Rennie is still missing more games than he plays. Johnson, asked why Fusaro had not made it into his Autumn Test squad, and why he preferred Kelly Brown in the openside role, said Fusaro was not dominating the breakdown in the bigger games consistently yet. So, this week was a missed chance to show against a big Edinburgh back-row that he could.

He is far from alone, given that most Scotland players will only play two more games – the Heineken Cup rounds – before dropping into Six Nations camp. It remains a mystery how his opposite number Roddy Grant has not featured in a Scotland squad yet, while competition is wide open for the tighthead slot with Ed Kalman missing his chance to push Jon Welsh, Moray Low and Geoff Cross for the spot in the Six Nations opener in Ireland on Sunday 2 February.

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Rob Harley is fighting for recognition for the No 6 jersey ahead of Alasdair Strokosch, or at least a bench spot, and hoped a better showing against rival David Denton, Grant and Cornell du Preez would have strengthened his claims.

Sean Lamont was due to return from his November injury on Wednesday and so may only have two European games in which to regain match fitness and form, while the pivotal half-back area remains a great conundrum for Johnson.

Townsend has been striving to ensure his Test men all get game-time to push their case, whilst ensuring fringe men are match fit and ready for the five or six games in the Six Nations period whilst bidding to keep the league title bid on track without as many as 15 internationalists.

So, after Duncan Weir and Chris Cusiter played at Murrayfield, Ruaridh Jackson and Henry Pyrgos were picked this week, possibly with a view to a similar switch in the Heineken Cup games. What now for Jackson and Pyrgos? Will they be given their chance away to Exeter, or has Townsend a different plan for that which deprives them of the opportunity to impress Johnson ahead of the Six Nations’ opener in Dublin?

Greig Laidlaw is in possession of the No 9 jersey, but he, too, wanted another shot this week after a mixed display at Murrayfield.