Being Mr Reliable can be a thankless role, as Henry Pyrgos knows only too well. After several years as understudy scrum-half to Chris Cusiter and then Mike Blair at Glasgow Warriors, it looked like he might be just about to step out into centre stage when he was named co-captain of the club – along with Jonny Gray – for the 2016-17 season.
He had been on the books at Glasgow since 2010, having graduated through the Scotland Under-20s set-up, and had made his international debut as a second-half replacement for Blair in a 22-51 defeat to New Zealand at Murrayfield in November 2012. He had already skippered the national side in their 2015 World Cup warm-up match against Ireland, against the USA at the tournament proper, and against Japan on the 2017 summer tour.
Honest, hard-working, sensible and with a sound skill-set, he was exactly the kind of character the team needed as they looked to rediscover some of the consistency which had allowed them to march to the Pro12 title in 2015.
Ali Price, however, had other ideas. The new kid on the block made a big enough impression as Pyrgos’ deputy during the opening few months of the 2016-17 season to merit a late call-up to Vern Cotter’s Scotland squad for the November Test series, and then trained his way on to the bench for the opening game of that campaign against Australia. Price, pictured, didn’t manage to make it on to the park on that occasion, or the following week against Argentina, but he finally got his big chance with seven minutes to go of Scotland’s final outing of the series against Georgia at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock – and he certainly made his mark.
He had one pass off the back of a driven line-out, was beaten to one high ball, made two tackles, and then really announced himself.
When Scotland were awarded a penalty deep inside their 22 after a maul had been collapsed, Price took the quick tap almost before the referee had finished blowing his whistle, and was off in a flash – launching a breath-taking counter-attack which was carried on by Rory Hughes before Stuart Hogg finished off a fine length-of-the-field score.
It seemed to be a sliding-doors moment for the two scrum-halves. All of a sudden, Price was the man everyone was talking about as the next great Scottish No 9. Another exciting Glasgow and Scottish back who can turn a game on its head with a flash of inspiration conjured out of nowhere.
And without doing anything in particular wrong, Pyrgos suddenly found himself dropping down the pecking order for both club and country.
To make matters worse, the progress of another live-wire scrum-half in George Horne this season has added to the competition which he must now overcome to get game time. Pyrgos has played in 18 games so far in this campaign but started on only four of those occasions.
“I feel I have been going well,” he replies when asked about his form. “At the start of the season, every player wants to play as much as they can and I did not get as many starts as I would have liked – but that is life. I am working hard, the coaching environment has been brilliant, they are really challenging us, and it is an exciting time.”
Price gave away an interception try to Scarlets scrum-half Gareth Davies last weekend, which was almost a carbon copy of the one he conceded to the same player when Scotland lost to Wales in Cardiff at the start of the Six Nations. On both occasions, the game swung on that moment of calamity. That is the flipside of having a virtuoso talent calling the shots at scrum-half.
Pyrgos came off the bench on the hour mark against Scarlets and scored a try. It was too little, too late, but a point was perhaps made as the Warriors look to build towards the business end of the season with a return to winning ways against struggling Connacht tomorrow night.
All of a sudden, at 28, Mr Reliable might not seem as unfashionable as he did a few short months ago.
“We did not perform as well as we wanted to last week so there might be a couple of changes,” agreed Pyrgos. “We will see. As a player, you don’t worry about that. It is out of your control – you work hard in training and go from there.”