There have been plenty of “Scots” who have played Super Rugby before moving to these shores. Brendan Laney, Sean Maitland, WP Nel, John Hardie, Josh Strauss and our latest star midfielder Huw Jones all played in the competition before heading north.
But the list of Scots who have grown up here and travelled south to experience Super Rugby is small. Gregor Townsend played for the Sharks in Durban and that was that… at least until now.
It’s like London buses because there are now two Scots playing Super Rugby down under. Former Heriot’s lock Murray Douglas has a bit-part contract with the Melbourne Rebels and Edinburgh prospect Lewis Carmichael has enjoyed some serious game time for fellow Aussie strugglers the Western Force.
“It’s been absolutely amazing experience,” says North Berwick boy Carmichael from the other side of the globe. “I am really lucky to have had the chance.
“Since I arrived I started the first game against the Chiefs and the second against the Lions. I worked out that after my first three matches over here I had played more minutes for the Force than I managed in 11 appearances off the bench for Edinburgh!”
Carmichael has promise and he has generated positive reviews in his adopted city of Perth, where the Force are negotiating to keep him for the rest of the season. The lock is tall, rangy, athletic and a good ball carrier.
But with so little time in the saddle it made sense to ship him to Australia, where exposure to Super Rugby can only hasten his development.
“It’s difficult to explain, but the whole thing is so completely different,” says Carmichael when asked about Super Rugby. “Obviously the play is really quick, end-to-end stuff. One minute you are defending in your twenty-two and the next minute you are about to score a try.
“It is much quicker, but it’s the skill set that really sets Super Rugby apart. I’ve played against New Zealand and South African opposition and their ability to execute under high pressure and make the right decision is amazing.
“That is not to say that the Edinburgh boys don’t have a good skill set – they do – but that standard down here is very high and it is helped by the weather, which is almost always dry and sunny all the time, which is not something you can say about Edinburgh.”
Like the other Aussie franchises, the Force are struggling a little around the halfway stage of the season with just three wins in 11 outings to their name. Still, they became the first Aussie team to triumph in Argentina, with one of those wins coming against the Jaguares, Carmichael doing his bit off the bench.
Last weekend was less inspiring, a 55-6 shellacking at the hands of the Highlanders, but yesterday they registered a morale-boosting 40-26 victory over the Reds in Brisbane, although they did so without Carmichael’s help; the Scot rotated out of the squad after five games.
Super Rugby has arguably over-reached itself and is now looking to retrench, possibly shrinking from 18 clubs to a more manageable 15, with one Australian and two South African franchises under threat, which hasn’t helped the mood in Western Australia. “It’s definitely an issue,” says Carmichael. “I am lucky because I am immune in some respects, but it’s huge for the squad and I can only say that I hope the Force can continue because there is a huge pool of untapped talent in Perth. The club game is really strong and they deserve a Super Rugby franchise.
“It doesn’t affect me too much, but the rest of the Force players have that doubt at the back of their minds every day, ‘will I have a job next season or not?’ It’s a worry. I really hope they survive.”
The pace of Super Rugby suits his athletic frame, the climate is almost perfect and Carmichael seems to have made himself comfortable in western Australia. Might he be tempted to stay and put down some roots?
“No,” he laughs, “I’m an Edinburgh Rugby player, not a Force player and I’ve got to remember that. The Force want to keep me to the end of the season and there are some negotiations going on right now, but I need to be back for Edinburgh’s pro season because we have a new coach in Richard Cockerill.”
What lessons from Super Rugby will he take back to Edinburgh in time for next season?
“The training sessions are a lot shorter down here,” he replies, “but they are all done with real intensity. There is no jogging about. And there is a huge emphasis on skills. Everyone is encouraged to take ownership of individual skills so when training has finished everyone hangs around for at least 20 minutes to work on their extras.”
Which is a lot easier to do with the sun rather than sleet is on your back.