Six Nations: Sam Hidalgo-Clyne on fast-track to top

Sam Hidalgo'Clyne gets his chance with the Scotland senior squad after coming through the SRU youth ranks. Picture: SNS/SRU
Sam Hidalgo'Clyne gets his chance with the Scotland senior squad after coming through the SRU youth ranks. Picture: SNS/SRU
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TO BE selected in Scotland’s Six Nations squad in only your second year of professional rugby is something to be proud of, especially when you get the nod ahead of the British and Irish Lion Chris Cusiter.

But to be picked in a position like scrum-half after just 15 professional starts in that shirt suggests that Sam Hidalgo-Clyne has something special about him.

The Edinburgh No 9 was born in Granada to a Spanish father and a Scottish mum (Hidalgo & Clyne respectively) who moved back home after the marriage broke down when Junior was just three.

His Spanish is as limited as yours or mine (dos cervezas por favor) but what he lacks in language skills he more than makes up for in rugby ones.

He played scrum-half throughout his schoolboy career that started with Royal High and finished at Merchiston Castle School on a scholarship. He played one Six Nations tournament at Under-20 level, but that was at full-back because the No 10 shirt had been shot-gunned, as he explains.

“To be honest I really enjoyed playing stand-off and then I did the sevens so, in a way, I lost my position when I came out,” says Hidalgo-Clyne.

“I did age-grade Under-20s and at that point Harry Leonard was the ten for the Under-20s and at Edinburgh as well so I think it was just a case of getting on the field.

“So I played full-back, I didn’t play ten from then, I went from full-back to nine and it’s just developed over time. With the attributes that I had that is probably the position for me.

“I played one year Under-20s at Six Nations. I didn’t go to the World Cup because I went to New Zealand for the MacPhail scholarship. Last season I was in and out of nine and wing and this season I have been playing nine. I’ve enjoyed it.”

It was once said of president Gerald Ford that he couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time and Hidalgo-Clyne looks like a one-man band in comparison.

Versatility can be a double edged sword, but the 22-year-old’s ability to fill in at nine, ten, 11, 14 or 15 has obviously not done him too much harm. He is quick enough to have started on the wing for Edinburgh only last season and he gives speed merchants like Tim Visser and Dougie Fife a run for their money over 50 metres. It is that acceleration that makes him such a threat at scrum-half around the breakdown.

Knowing how things look from another angle also seems to have helped Hidalgo-Clyne in his chosen profession.

“It adds another string to my bow that I can play other positions,” he replies when asked the question.

“It definitely helps my running game. It’s just a different vision of the pitch. You see different areas.

“As a scrum-half you can’t see everything so it is just an appreciation of being at the back, what happens in the game, what you expect and I think it has broadened my vision on the pitch. It definitely has helped me.”

While Hidalgo-Clyne is arguably the third-choice scrummy in the squad as things stand, only a fool would rule out the possibility of him appearing on the bench in Paris, especially if they remember what happened in that frenetic final quarter in Cardiff back in 2010.

Due to injuries and cards Scotland were forced to field a plodding playmaker at full-back and to call the result calamitous would be kind.

Scotland’s coach Vern Cotter seems to have opted for versatility in this squad with many players boasting the ability to double up. Peter Horne is equally comfortable at inside centre or at stand-off, Greig Tonks is backing up Finn Russell at ten but he can do a stint at 15 if needed, while the new Kiwi flanker. Hugh Blake, can do a shift across the back row.

And it is good to see the daddy of them all still in the mix at the age of 34 because Sean Lamont has filled every position in the outside backs for Scotland.

What it means in practice is that Cotter has in-built flexibility when picking his matchday 22. He could bench five forwards in Paris if he is expecting a game of attrition thanks to the versatility of Hidalgo-Clyne and others who double up. If covering five back-line positions wasn’t enough, the scrum-half has one more arrow in his quiver… he kicks goals.

He only took over the kicking duties last month, but already Hidalgo-Clyne has notched up 23 successes off the tee for a total of 71 points in all competitions for Edinburgh.

“Actually I started it up again in New Zealand, working hard with Finn (Russell) every day,” says Hidalgo-Clyne, who played for a different club Down Under but trained daily with the current Scotland stand-off. “I used to do it at school and really enjoyed it, I did it at sevens where it is obviously more drop goals, and I have worked hard on that. It’s something that I’ve taken back up and it gets me into the game.

“I’m really confident about it and it’s something I really want to keep progressing with.”

He reveals that he had always targeted the World Cup as his ultimate goal for the season and, so far, the talented Mr Hidalgo-Clyne is firmly on track.