Scotland’s newest international cap, hooker Grant Stewart, admits that, if a fork in the road had gone another way, he’d be loading lorries rather than what he hopes to be checked hold baggage on a plane to Japan in just a few weeks.
The Glasgow Warrior became Scotland’s 1,106th rugby internationalist at the weekend as he came off the bench in the 17-14 win over France which got the nation’s World Cup preparations back on track.
At 24, the former Strathaven, Dalziel and Glasgow Hawks man is a relative novice for a front row. But, following a breakthrough year under Dave Rennie at Scotstoun, he now has serious ambitions in the battle with clubmates George Turner and Fraser Brown, who is battling back from a foot injury, to join Stuart McInally in the final 31-man squad that head coach Gregor Townsend will announce a week today.
“It’s like a dream come true to make my debut at Murrayfield and I’m thrilled,” said Stewart after his first appearance in the dark blue jersey. “I started with Strathaven. I’ve been with three clubs and had different coaches so it’s been a bit of a journey but I’ve got there.
“I did Scotland under-17s and 18s but that was it. There was no under-20s selection.”
The Lanarkshire man has caught the eye since being drafted into the Warriors from Hawks during a front-row injury crisis and has seized his chance. Understandably still raw in such a specialised position, he has impressed with his pace and ball-playing talents on the professional stage.
“I stalled a bit at Dalziel: that’s when I moved to Hawks and I didn’t really kick off there. I was 21 and that’s when it started to get going with them,” explained Stewart of his gradual ascension to the pro ranks.
“I was working for my mum’s family haulage company. Loading lorries. I don’t have an HGV licence. The whole family and friends were here today so that’s good.”
Stewart received his first cap from SRU president Dee Bradbury after Saturday’s welcome win over France and is keen now to show more of what he can do in this weekend’s pivotal third World Cup warm-up Test in Georgia – the last before Townsend makes his final cut. “I thought I played well [on Saturday] and hopefully will get a chance next weekend. Take as much as I can and give 100 per cent.”
On the step up to international rugby, Stewart added: “It was quicker. Obviously [France’s] front rows are big boys so it was different. The first five minutes felt the longest I’d ever played. I was ballooned. But it was good.”
Injuries meant Stewart’s international bow took place in a slight flurry of confusion.
“They said I was going on for [lock Sam] Skinner and I was thinking ‘Well, does that mean back row?’ but George [Turner] went there so it was all good.” Stewart was in the middle of the front row as Skinner departed with a hamstring injury and flanker Blade Thomson with a head knock. Despite Turner remaining in the back row, Stewart took on the lineout-throwing responsibilities.
“I’ve had to work on that a lot. If I want to play at Test level Gregor has said that has to improve,” he said, before revealing what coaches and senior players had said before the biggest day in his promising rugby life.
“They said just relax and enjoy it. We have wee notes above our jerseys in the changing room and Fraser Brown had left me a typed-up wee note in a frame. It said just relax and enjoy. After the first five minutes I did manage to.”