Heineken Cup: Chris Fusaro to take fight to Toulon

GLASGOW players might have been forgiven for taking one look at the Toulon ‘Galacticos’ team named yesterday and declaring ‘it’s not fair’, were it not for the fact that Chris Fusaro is the man who will lead them out at Scotstoun this afternoon.
Chris Fusaro: Back in Scots squad. Picture: Robert PerryChris Fusaro: Back in Scots squad. Picture: Robert Perry
Chris Fusaro: Back in Scots squad. Picture: Robert Perry

If fairness was part of rugby, then Fusaro would have been a Scotland internationalist some time ago and would currently be lording it over the Scottish game. There are few players who wrap as much enthusiasm, hard work and undying commitment into a size of frame that many reckoned there would be no place for in the increasingly sizeist modern rugby.

He is hardly a ‘wee man’ by west end Glasgow standards at 5ft 11in and nearly 15 stones, but the openside flanker from the Howe of Fife has had to battle harder than most for recognition in Scottish rugby. His most recent fight was with Scotland’s head coach Scott Johnson.

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Johnson could not ignore his form in the early part of the season and so called him into the autumn Test camp, but swiftly jettisoned him with the honest comment that he was not consistently dominating the breakdown the way he needed of his Test performers.

It came as a shock to the flanker, who had felt his game was coming along nicely, but, in typical fashion, he listened, agreed and resolved to ensure that that could not be said again. This week he was named in the Six Nations training squad, beating off the challenge from Edinburgh’s Roddy Grant, and will captain Glasgow against a Toulon team led by England World Cup winner Jonny Wilkinson, and featuring a host of fellow World Cup winners, bidding to prove why this afternoon.

“It was quite a surprise when the [Scotland] email came on Tuesday night,” he said, “but I’m delighted to be part of it again and hopefully I can last a bit longer in the squad this time and have a real crack at getting my first cap. It’s a shame for Roddy [Grant]. He’s been on top form for Edinburgh and I thought he would have been in the squad, but obviously Kelly [Brown] is going for the seven spot as well and, with [Ross] Rennie, there is a lot of competition as always.

“But playing for your country is never going to be easy. It’s a challenge you have to accept.”

That has been hammered home to Fusaro in the past year, not least by Johnson, and accepted by the 24-year-old.

“He has given me things he wants me to work on and, if I want to play for Scotland, then I go and work on these things. It’s as simple as that for me.”

This, then, is a great opportunity. With Brown Johnson’s choice as Scotland captain it will take some work to persuade him Fusaro should start in the No 7 jersey in the Six Nations, and he does not cover the blindside or No 8, so a bench spot is unlikely. But he knows a fine performance against the likes of 5ft 9in, near-17-stone dynamo Steffon Armitage and Springboks Juan Smith and Joe van Niekerk in the Toulon back row would be a major step in his career.

For that to happen, however, he needs his front five to compete with a quintet the equal of most Test sides – Andrew Sheridan, Chris Burden, a South African centre-turned-hooker, Carl Hayman, Bakkies Botha and French cap Jocelino Suta. That will be the crux of today’s battle and hold the key to Glasgow’s hopes of claiming the Toulon scalp and putting themselves into the frame for Amlin qualification. Fusaro is undaunted, and so is a perfect replacement for the injured Al Kellock as captain.

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“It’s a massive challenge,” he said, with a wide smile. “It doesn’t matter who they start with or bring on, they are all world-class players. Armitage is a specialist seven and he’s very good over ball and got a few turnovers against us in the second half over there, so we’ll be targeting the breakdown because we want to play a quick-tempo game.

“But it’s all about confrontation at the end of the day and I’m not the biggest but I love going out there into the physical battle. For all of us this is massively exciting. We’ve got huge amounts of respect for Toulon but, on the flip side of that, we’re due them one because we didn’t play well in the first half out in Toulon.

“It’s one of those where you have to play well for the whole game and take your opportunities. If we win and we qualify [for the Amlin] great, but we have to just go out and play and not think about other results.”