BUCHAREST will be the proving ground for another clutch of budding internationalists this summer, with Scotland A head coach Sean Lineen handing six newcomers a place on the forthcoming tour to Romania to defend the IRB Nations Cup.
Alex Blair's star keeps on rising, with the youngest sibling of the Blair family starting the week with selection for the Scotland sevens squad for the remaining IRB tournaments and continuing yesterday with an A squad call-up. He is joined by five other new faces to the A arena in Glasgow pair Chris Fusaro and Colin Shaw, Edinburgh lock Steven Turnbull, Bath youngster Jack Cuthbert and Bryan Rennie, the former Watsonians and Borders centre who has been a key part of Exeter's push for the Guinness Premiership since the Reivers team was disbanded in 2007.
Rennie, who was born in South Africa to an Aberdonian father, is preparing for the first leg of the Championship's final play-off with Bristol tonight, but took time out to share his delight at finally being included in a Scotland squad after several years of knocking on the door in vain whilst in Scotland.
He said: "It's a great surprise and I'm absolutely chuffed to bits. We are pretty full-on right now with everyone focused on getting into the Premiership, because it's been a long campaign to get up there and we are so close now that you can't afford to take your eyes off these final two games.
"To get the news that I've been selected to tour with Scotland A is huge. I've never played for Scotland at any level and obviously it was my big aim when I played in Scotland, but sadly it didn't come off.
"It's nice to think they have kept an eye on me and once these games are out of the way it will be a great honour to look forward to for me and my family."
Last year's A tour propelled a handful of youngsters into the limelight, including Worcester centre Alex Grove and Edinburgh back row Alan MacDonald, who will next month tour with the full Scotland squad to Argentina. The national coach, Andy Robinson, will not be in charge this time around, but Lineen and Robinson have worked so closely on the selection of this squad that the new A coach insisted that the same opportunities would arise for figures within this 26-man squad.
"I'm excited," he said. "With the senior Scotland squad going to Argentina this year, this is a real opportunity for another group of players to shine.
"Obviously we're going over there to defend the Cup, and there's more pressure on us this year as the holders. There's a good mix of youth and experience, it is mainly youth, but the best tool for these players' development is winning."
A strong Scotland A squad, captained by Chris Cusiter, defeated Russia, Uruguay and France A to win the IRB Nations Cup in Romania last year, but will this time face Georgia – who Scotland will come up against in next year's Rugby World Cup – Namibia and the Argentina Jaguars.
The squad consists of 14 Edinburgh players, seven from Glasgow and three exiles, but is complemented by the inclusion of eight full internationalists who are expected to form the spine of the team as it progresses through the three games. They include Edinburgh quartet Allister Hogg, Scott MacLeod, Ben Cairns and Geoff Cross, Glasgow hooker Fergus Thomson, and wingers Rob Dewey and Nikki Walker. Glasgow fly-half Ruaridh Jackson was discounted from possible selection as he recovers from an ankle ligament injury. The A tour captain is still to be appointed.
Flanker Fusaro, who has signed a full-time contract with Glasgow for next season, is another talented youngster pushing through, but he said that Scotland A squad selection had not entered his mind. "I was very surprised to get the call-up – it came totally out of the blue," he said. "I'm really looking forward to the tour though. It's going to be a great experience to go to Romania.
"I hope to get some game-time and gain some experience, but no matter what chances I get, I know I will have to take them."