HE MAY retain the southern English accent of his Dorset upbringing but Henry Pyrgos has never been in any doubt about his Scots identity and exuded indisputable pride yesterday when he faced the media as Scotland’s newest rugby captain.
The 26-year-old Glasgow Warriors scrum-half found out on Monday that he was to be given the task of skippering the team in their first World Cup warm-up Test against Six Nations champions Ireland in Dublin on Saturday evening. The first call he made was to his mother Fiona, who hails from Grangemouth, and the only regret he feels this week is that his Scottish grandparents are no longer around to see him leading out the national team.
“Vern [Cotter] pulled me aside on Monday and said he would like me to captain,” explained Pyrgos. “It was an amazing feeling, the greatest day of my life and the family are thrilled. It is a huge honour to captain Scotland and I jumped at the opportunity.
“The first call I made was to my mum and she was thrilled for me. It’s just a shame my grandparents aren’t around to see me do it. My mum is a very passionate Scot, I was very close to my grandparents and I always supported Scotland growing up.”
Pyrgos’s path to the Scotland set-up started in his mid-teens when he took part in some Exiles training camps and he eventually turned out for the under-19s before, while at Loughborough University, winning a move to Glasgow and then going on to play for Scotland Under-20s in the 2009 junior World Cup in Japan.
He now has 13 caps to his name but the 14th is set to be extra special as a superb Guinness Pro12-title winning season is rewarded with the captaincy. Pyrgos’s form was particularly strong in the closing stages of the campaign, capped by a brilliant try in the Belfast final as Munster were ripped to shreds in a thrilling opening 40 minutes that set Glasgow on their way to a first major title for a Scottish club.
I was very close to my grandparents and I supported Scotland growing upHenry Pyrgos
The performances were a timely reminder to those who were starting to view the battle for the national No 9 jersey as a head-to-head shootout between the incumbent Greig Laidlaw and Edinburgh’s young pretender Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. When Cotter announced his extended training squad at the start of June he highlighted Pyrgos as a potential captain of the World Cup squad and the Kiwi coach has backed that assessment by giving the scrum-half first shot at the leadership role as Scotland embark on their series of four warm-up matches.
So did Pyrgos feel a bit like the forgotten man when the Laidlaw v Hidalgo-Clyne hype was at its highest around the time of the European Challenge Cup final between Gloucester and Edinburgh?
“As a player you cannot really think like that,” he replied. “There are lots of quality guys around, Greig, Sam, Chris [Cusiter]. You can only focus on what you control. I was not involved in that game [the European final]. I was trying to play well for Glasgow.
“I had a few frustrating injuries after a good start to the season and it was an amazing feeling to lift the Pro12 for Glasgow.”
Pyrgos is part of the “leadership group” at the Warriors and has relished the chance to take on the captaincy role in the past.
“I had the opportunity against Bath [in the European Cup] late on when Josh Strauss pulled out late with an injury,” he explained. “I felt I had a good game. If you are well prepared and have good guys around you it is an exciting job and one I hope I can do well.”
He said he will be sounding out some advice from his now former club captain Al Kellock, the talismanic Warriors leader who retired at the end of the season.
“No doubt I’ll be speaking to Al this week,” said Pyrgos. “I’ll be looking to other guys too because you don’t want to be hearing just one voice all week.
“As a scrum-half I’ll be looking at how the team is going to play tactically – what we’re doing well and what we need to improve on.
“Other senior guys will be involved – John Barclay, Jim Hamilton, Sean Lamont – there are lots of guys with experience.
“Nothing will change massively for me. I’ll focus a little more on the team rather than just myself. It’s exciting.”
Of course, there is also the small matter that Saturday’s opponents are Ireland – now the second ranked side in the world, Six Nations champions, one of the favourites to win the forthcoming tournament and coming off the back of an impressive defeat of Wales last weekend.
“They are obviously a quality team, we all know that,” said Pyrgos. “A lot of the Glasgow guys are playing against Irish players week in and week out and we know what a test it is. They played well at the weekend.
“It is one of the toughest games we have to play and they have a great squad of players. It will be a huge challenge but we take confidence from playing these guys week in and week out and having good results against them. We know if we play well there is every chance we can get a result. It will be tough but, if we stick together as a team, we will do well.
“It comes down to playing well in games and winning Test matches for Scotland – that’s what we’re all here to achieve. The Six Nations was disappointing but it’s great that we now have an opportunity to put it right.
“Obviously, weve been working on defence and attack and I think you can see that on the training pitch.
“We’re improving every day, which is great, and now we get the opportunity to play in a Test match. It is a huge Test this weekend and a great opportunity for the guys. We need to go out there and put in a great performance.”