Northampton Saints Rory Hutchinson received a text from Gregor Townsend after last weekend’s game against Leicester Tigers when the classy centre earned two assists in a composed display. A month too late, some might think.
The Scotland coach was down to the bare bones ahead of that Calcutta Cup showdown and Hutchinson, who played for Scotland age grades teams thanks to a Glasgow granny, has been lighting up the English Premiership.
He scored an acrobatic try against Bath – see picture above – and has played 11 times for Saints this season already, as much as the last two years combined.
Last weekend against Leicester’s ailing Tigers he danced through the defensive line to send winger Tom Collins over the line before throwing an outrageous 20 metre pass to one time Glasgow winger Taqele Naiyaravoro who popped the ball inside for another try.
And all this excellence occurred after Hutchinson had walked off with the Premiership Player of the Month award for February, beating the likes of England internationals Ben Morgan and Mike Brown in the process.
“He sent me a text message after the Leicester game just talking about the game,” said Hutchinson of the Scotland’s coach’s interest. “It was nice to get a message from him and just know that I am on his radar. He got in touch and it was nice to get some recognition. It was nice to get a text just to know he is watching.
“It is very humbling to receive an award. There were some great players up. I just feel very grateful to be noticed by such a big audience so, yeah, it’s very humbling to win any award.
“Saints are playing a great brand of rugby right now, we are playing with great flow in our attack and that really suits my game. We are really enjoying the style of rugby we are playing and hopefully it will continue to the end of the season and thereafter.”
Hutchinson is only 23 years old but he actually enjoyed his breakthrough season two years back in 2016-17 when he made seven starts for the club. The 2017-18 campaign was a write off, with just one appearance in Saints’ colours following a back injury and a loan move to Bedford.
They may be in the English Championship but the Scot was just grateful to get some time in the saddle. “Bedford was brilliant for me, just to play some rugby,” he says. But he is now cementing his place in the Saints midfield although he faces stiff opposition from another Scottish qualified and highly promising centre.
Fraser Dingwall’s dad Gordon was a useful centre for London Scottish for many years and Junior has proved a keeper at Saints. An injury to the 19 year old – he turns 20 next month – gave Hutchinson his chance to shine in the 13 shirt although the pair of them, old friends who both grew up in Cambridge, have played side by side for Saints and could yet do the same for Scotland if the dice fall for them.
“We’ve played a few games together but not as many as we would have liked to,” says the “veteran” 23 year old. “He’s done extremely well this season, taken every opportunity he’s been given with both hands.
“I am really proud of how far he’s come so it is nice to know that he is another Cambridge boy with me as well. The youth have done really well this season, they have stepped up and the future is exciting.”
When I put it to him that it is not entirely inconceivable that he and Dingwall could both play together at Test match level one day he doesn’t argue too hard.
“No, definitely not. Who knows what the future would hold if that dream ever came true. But like I said, club rugby comes first.”
Saints actually boast a third Scottish centre, Fraser Strachan, who has yet to break into the first team squad.
While Hutchinson has only played for Scotland, Dingwall originally turned out in navy blue at U18 level and then in England’s white at 18s and 20s.
The whole “English qualified player” (EQP) business – clubs are paid by Twickenham for producing EQPs, a status they lose once they are “captured” by Scotland – is becoming increasingly relevant down south.
However, Northampton prefer to grow their own local talent , and the majority of EQPs in the squad removes any immediate pressure on dual-qualified players to make a choice. Certainly Hutchinson appears to be relaxed on the issue, which will be a nice problem to have if it comes.
“I haven’t thought about it too much,” claims the centre. “There has been some talk about it but I wasn’t too worried. I am just going to concentrate on my club rugby at the moment and see what happens. I have heard about EQP stuff, but I just need to see what happens. It’s a great problem to have, if it ever happens. I am not thinking about it too much but it is in the back of my mind.”
Meanwhile Hutchinson has a big game this evening, a Challenge Cup quarter-final in one of the bear pits of European Rugby, Clermont’s Stade Marcel-Michelin.
Saints have already played Clermont in the pools, going down 48-40 in a thriller last January so Hutchinson, a travelling reserve that day, is expecting the same again.
“I am really looking forward to the challenge, there are world-class players there so it will be good to test myself against them and see where I am really at,” says the Scot.
“Looking forward to the challenge and Clermont is a great place to go to. It was absolutely incredible, the crowd was immense, one of the craziest places I have ever been to for a rugby match.
“We came up just short last time but we are looking forward to it, who doesn’t love a quarter-final?”