Henry Pyrgos eyes Scotland chance after swapping Glasgow for Edinburgh

It was surely the best bit of business transacted by either pro-team in the summer. When Richard Cockerill told the press that he would like one of the Glasgow scrum-halfs, thank you very much, Dave Rennie bristled at the idea, the press sniggered and the Edinburgh coach got his man.

Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is put through his paces at Scotlands training camp in St Andrews yesterday as the squad prepares for the upcoming autumn Tests.
Edinburgh scrum-half Henry Pyrgos is put through his paces at Scotlands training camp in St Andrews yesterday as the squad prepares for the upcoming autumn Tests.

With his tactical nous, leadership and experience Henry Pyrgos has proven a wonderful fit with the capital outfit. If it seems obvious in retrospect, the move along the M8 was anything but at the time of asking.

“At the time it was a tough decision,” says the 29-year-old. “I had been at Glasgow for a long time and I felt close to the club. I had grown up there as a player and a person but I just felt that I had to move for my career and that is what happens sometimes. Looking back I am glad I have.

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“At times you get frustrated. Everyone wants to play so you are obviously challenging the coaches. You work hard on training and focus on other things outside of rugby, family life and other things. Rugby can be very up and down so if your sole focus every day of your life is that, it can be tough.

“He [Cockerill] told me to come in and work hard and try to understand how Edinburgh want to play. He said if I played and trained well enough I would get picked to play. At the moment it has been going well and I’ve had a lot of minutes on the pitch. I’ve enjoyed it and everyone has been really welcoming. I obviously got a bit of stick for coming from Glasgow, but you expect that!

“You want to play rugby. If you’re not playing you’re unlikely to get picked for the national team. At Glasgow I wasn’t playing as much as I wanted to and needed to. Now, I’m playing quite a bit and if I keep doing that there’s a chance I’ll get selected.”

He has a good chance, especially for the opening game which Greig Laidlaw misses. From being third-choice nine at the Warriors, Pyrgos has now started five of Edinburgh’s six league matches and another two in the Heineken Champions Cup ties. He has already enjoyed more starts for Edinburgh this season than he managed in the whole of the Warriors’ 2017/18 campaign.

Pyrgos is a litmus test 
player, a clue for anyone wondering how Gregor Townsend wants to fine-tune his game plan. If Pyrgos is selected to start against Wales it would indicate that the coach has rowed back from his 100mph game plan which, you may recall, didn’t work so well for Scotland the last time they visited Cardiff last February, suffering a 34-7 loss.

Following that sobering scoreline on his Six Nations debut, Townsend became much more pragmatic. Against France, Scotland were duller but less prone to errors, especially inside the opposition red zone, which helped. With the World Cup just around the corner, pragmatism is a handy virtue to have.

The funny aspect of all of this is that while we debate endlessly the strengths and weaknesses of the four scrum-halfs at Townsend’s disposal, Pyrgos adopts a more simplistic view of things from his perspective… rugby is rugby.

“Ali [Price] and George [Horne] are obviously very dangerous runners,” he says of his rivals. “I feel I have a strong kicking game and a strong understanding and I know Greig [Laidlaw] has that as well.

“Edinburgh and Glasgow play slightly differently and I have really enjoyed learning… I’ve been at Glasgow for a while so going to Edinburgh and learning a different style of rugby, it’s good, challenging me to adapt and I have really enjoyed it and having the chance to show what I can do as well.

“I think it went pretty well at Glasgow in the eight years I was there,” he continues. “It’s slightly different, we [Edinburgh] obviously kick the ball when we exit and I think it’s a strong part of our game. I feel my kicking is a strong part of my game. I know I have been able to help the team a little bit. I have said it before, rugby is rugby.”

Scotland may travel south next week with some trepidation after their last visit to the Welsh capital ended in abject failure. Furthermore this team is stripped of any foreign-based personnel, including Finn Russell, Laidlaw, Sam Skinner, David Denton, Blade Thomson, who turned up late to training after the arrival of a new child, Sean Maitland and Byron McGuigan.

The question is whether this short-staffed Scotland squad, culled from the two pro-teams, has the wherewithal to see off the Welsh challenge come 3 November?

“Yes,” says Pyrgos before expanding on the theme.

“Wales put us under a lot of pressure and we didn’t play well. We know we are going to have to play really well to beat Wales but we have a lot of quality in the squad and we can play well and cause them a lot of problems and get the win.”