Sean Kennedy takes long road to win Scotland place

Sean Kennedy's only previous experience of rugby touring came as a 16-year-old on a trip by Alloa RFC to Wales, but that was enough to give him a grasp of the golden rules.

Sean Kennedy gets to work in the gym after his promotion to Scotlands summer tour squad following an injury to Edinburgh team-mate Sam Hidalgo-Clyne. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS

“The first rule of touring is that what goes on tour stays on tour. The second rule is the same,” said the Edinburgh scrum-half with a smile as he faced the media at BT Murrayfield yesterday.

The 26-year-old was called into Gregor Townsend’s summer tour squad last weekend as a replacement for injured Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and will now embark on the trip to face Italy in Singapore, Australia in Sydney and Fiji in Suva.

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“I was only 16 at the time so I went with the adults in the firsts,” Kennedy recalled of that trip to the valleys. “I learnt a thing or two. It was a Six Nations weekend. We played Skewen Rugby Club [near Neath].

“Two of us were both 16 and we weren’t allowed to drink on the bus because they were relying on us to win the game, which we did. It was good fun.

“I’ve never been away on a big tour. I did Italy in the Under 20 World Cup, and I went there for an Under-18s festival and obviously to Treviso and Zebre [with Edinburgh]. But that feels like a normal season thing now. I’ve played some sevens in the southern hemisphere, but to spend a long time away from home is going to be different for me, but I’m really looking forward to it.”

Edinburgh spread game time around scrum-halves last season, with Kennedy, Hidalgo-Clyne and Nathan Fowles all taking ownership for a period, which was an improvement on the previous couple of seasons for the former.

Kennedy had injury troubles in 2014-15 after a spell on loan as injury cover to Glasgow, when he was included in the 2013 Six Nations training squad. “It has been a bit up and down for me,” he admitted. “I was at Glasgow at the time [of the last Scotland call], which I enjoyed because I was a relatively young guy. I came into full-time rugby relatively late at 21.”

Despite the frustrations, Kennedy says he has never considered looking for a move away from Edinburgh.

“Not really. But then, I’ve never had anyone come in and offer me a contract elsewhere,” he explained. “It has never crossed my mind to be honest.

“I was young and knew I was inexperienced. I signed a two-year contract that I then extended by a year, so I knew I had another two seasons to go. I wasn’t sitting in the changing room saying I wanted to leave. I still felt I could get better and learn from guys like Greig [Laidlaw], who was still there at the time.

“Obviously everybody wants to start every game but there are times when you’re starting a few in a row that you know the coach is going to rotate. Solly [former coach Alan Solomons] was good. He would tell you the plans and things can change obviously. You do want to start every game and so even when you’ve played well and are rotated you’re champing at the bit, but we shared game time a lot this season until I injured my foot.

“‘I was touch-and-go for the Glasgow game [at the end of this season] but I was dying to get back and I got on the pitch, only for ten minutes maybe, but it was great to get back before the end of the season.”

The call-up has been a whirlwind for Kennedy, who said he was well aware that he arrives as the third-choice scrum-half behind Henry Pyrgos and Ali Price, but the example of Price’s elevation to the Test arena shows that things can move fast. He hopes to win his first full cap on the tour and push on from there.

“Greig is still around and I’m here because he’s on the Lions tour and someone’s got injured, but one day Greig will decide to step aside from international rugby,” said Kennedy. “But then you’ve got young guys like George Horne coming through, who’s been outstanding for the sevens, so when Greig does step aside there will be a lot of guys ready to put their hands up. But for the time being I’m just going to try to get my head down and make a good impression.

“I was surprised [by the call-up]. The boys hadn’t been training for long when I heard Sammy had picked up an injury. I thought I was just coming in for a couple of days, it was only when I came in that I realised he was out of the tour.

“I was shocked – I rocked up planning to do a couple of sessions and go home. But I’m chuffed to bits to get a chance to play for my country.”