SAM Hidalgo-Clyne has told the 87 inductees to the first BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy to take nothing for granted because the hard work starts now.
The Edinburgh and Scotland scrum-half was at BT Murrayfield on Saturday to help hand out the jerseys to the 2015 intake and is a prime example to those youngsters of what can be achieved when effort is coupled with natural talent.
Hidalgo-Clyne, who turns 22 on 4 August, has burst onto the national scene and is fighting for the starting scrum-half position at the World Cup after a season in which he was named Guinness Pro12 young player of the year.
He came through the Edinburgh academy system, earned his stripes with the age-grade and sevens squads, and is proof that a pathway to the top level is there for those who are good enough and motivated enough to grasp the opportunity.
Of course, not all of those 16 girls and 71 boys who constitute the inaugural academy intake will make the grade and, asked what advice he would give the new batch, Hidalgo-Clyne said: “The biggest thing is don’t take it for granted. You have to work hard.
“I was at Edinburgh and 18 when I joined and was linked with the sevens, which was slightly different. I was there for two-and-a-half years and really enjoyed it. But what I realised was that just because I was in the academy I had not made it. You have to put the hard work in and as a young player it took me a while to realise that.
It is not just about the physical attributes. It is how you perform off the pitchSam Hidalgo-Clyne
“But you learn pretty quickly if you want to go places you have to work hard and learn from the guys above you.”
Hidalgo-Clyne was in the system with the likes of Grant Gilchrist, Dougie Fife and Hamish Watson and said that young players need to be sponges when it comes to learning from the established pros.
He explained: “Bryan Easson was in charge of the EDP [elite development players] and was a big influence. We did skills every day and, if you wanted any additional help, you would approach him and ask him for help, so it was good. We were training with the pro players and learning off the likes of Greig Laidlaw, Mossy [Chris Paterson], Mike Blair. It was about learning from those guys and being around them.”
The youngsters are split into four regional academies, with the fourth and final centre confirmed for the Borders/East Lothian in Galashiels under the management of Craig Dewsnap.
The SRU aims to have its academy players contributing to the top-level of domestic rugby, continuing contact with the two pro teams and in contention for selection to international age-grade and representative sides, with a relaunched inter-district championship at youth level.
The youngsters will be encouraged to take on further education and employment opportunities to help develop their lives outside rugby.
Scottish Rugby chief executive Mark Dodson said: “Improving the depth and quality of our player pool has been an absolute priority for some time now and this induction is a significant achievement on that path.
“In recent years we have seen a high standard of international players coming through our Elite Development Player programme, but in this ever-evolving sport we must keep improving how we bring the next generation of players through.
“Scottish Rugby thanks BT and our regional partners, who have bought into our vision and helped bring it to fruition.
“We set ourselves a target 18 months ago to deliver a national academy structure and we have delivered on that.”
Scottish Rugby’s director of rugby Scott Johnson added: “The world of rugby doesn’t stand still, we need to constantly ensure our young talent have the best possible facilities, development programmes and expertise to help us bring on players who are prepared for the rigours of professional and inter- national rugby.
“Developing the logistics for the new structure has been our first challenge. We now move into the operational phase, and I believe we have the right team in place to make that a success.”
The national structure will be headed by former Scotland Sevens coach Stephen Gemmell, who said: “We will endeavour to develop our players on the field and in their aspirations away from rugby too.”
Hidalgo-Clyne certainly believes that the new system is an improvement and can help nurture the next generation.
He said: “The best thing is that they are starting at younger ages now – 15, 16. That is brilliant. It is great getting them involved in the professional environment, taking ownership of themselves and it is not just about the physical attributes. It is how you perform off the pitch, everything about you as a person.
“Once they are good enough, from stage three they will jump over and train with the pros, which is really good. Also the facilities are going to be excellent and there will be a lot more emphasis on their own training. Sometimes with the pros you sometimes hold bags and are around the guys and not involved in the training. Under the new system they will be training consistently and their skills set and the physical stuff will improve.”
Hidalgo-Clyne benefited from the 2013 Macphail Scholarship to New Zealand, which he went on with Scotland team-mate Finn Russell, and said that experience taught him to take personal responsibility for his progress and not expect everything to be spoon fed.
He added: “I had nothing around me. I had great coaches but it was all down to me regarding how much work I put in.
“The games were not the biggest things for me out there. I had just moved to scrum-half and was getting used to that in games but the biggest thing during the week was learning how to become a scrum-half. I would take a pen and paper and go to the Crusaders game and go watch Willi Heinz. It was about putting in the hard yards myself.
“There are some good players coming through the system here. You look at the schools stuff and age-grade teams and there is class there. The younger guys are getting better and better.”