Year of living dangerously pays a handsome dividend for Ross Doneghan

WHAT a difference a year makes. In January 2009, Ross Doneghan was preparing to start another semester at The University of Stirling while playing Premiership Division Two rugby for Stewart's Melville FP.

Later this month, the 21-year-old, whose brother Michael is a part of the National Academy, will begin his life as a professional rugby player in South Africa with provincial side Border Bulldogs.

Having spent the past ten months at the South African Rugby Legends Academy in the Border province, Doneghan has propelled himself from being an amateur with ability to a professional with potential.

After missing out on selection for the Scotland under-20s squad in 2008, Doneghan, instead of throwing in the towel, took it upon himself to instigate his own development in the game. "I really wanted to make the Scotland under-20s squad and I was pretty gutted that it didn't happen so I just took affirmative action for myself," he said.

Taking advice from former Scotland forwards and Glasgow coach Hugh Campbell, Doneghan sent footage of himself in action to John Allan, the chief executive of the Academy. Allan liked what he saw and Doneghan was accepted into the academy and given a year to prove his worth. "I basically threw the kitchen sink in when I got to South Africa. The Academy switched me between lock and flank, which I was happy with and I played lock and flanker for the Border Bulldogs under-21," he said.

Doneghan's attitude both on and off the field was rewarded with vice captaincy for the provincial side as well as being named as pack leader. Indeed, he made such an impression in the age-group fixtures that he was called up to play for the senior outfit, featuring for the final 20 minutes of Bulldogs' Currie Cup encounter with Falcons.

The Linlithgow-born flanker's run of form led to selection to attend the prestigious Investec Academy, run by former Springbok Dick Muir and ex-All Black Murray Mexted. "It was amazing, the talent was really good," he recalled of the week-long training camp, which took place in November. "I worked on a one-to-one basis with Murray Mexted, it was amazing to have that wealth of knowledge to tap into."

As well as developing as a player, Doneghan pinpoints the greatest benefit of his time in South Africa has been improving on his skills 'upstairs', improving significantly on his mental toughness on and off the field. I like to think that I've got the mental attitude that whatever is thrown at me, whether I've had five bad games in a row and I need to get out of a rut, I will get out of it.

Although he admits that his thoughts are currently channelled towards performing to the best of his abilities for Border Bulldogs in the coming season, he does state: "The goal is to play pro rugby in Scotland."

Border Bulldogs will begin their Vodacom Cup season next month and while he is aware he will be one of the youngest players in the squad, Doneghan is determined to impress. "I'll be the youngest flanker there so I'll have to go and play my best to get a spot," he said.

If the ambitious flanker continues with the attitude he has adopted in South Africa, the coming year will undoubtedly follow on from the success of the past 12 months.