For every Gap Year student there is someone at home Skyping them the question “have you found yourself yet?” Risk is admirable but voyages of fortune hunting can caustically come at a cost. There is a rather famous bumper sticker out there that proclaims “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance.” For rugby playing Scots currently abroad it is a case of mixed fortunes and tough lessons.
At Sale Sharks things are not going as smoothly as they once had.
They won at the weekend against Bath 16-13 and Alasdair Dickinson, Fraser McKenzie and Richie Vernon all started but the result came after five losses out of the last six games. Training has been brutal at Edgeley Park and Director Steve Diamond has ruled over his squad with an iron fist and an acid tongue. No one said it would be easy in the Aviva Premiership.
Elsewhere in the division Newcastle Falcons and their Scots corps are propping up the table. Ally Hogg has been ever present and Euan Murray has helped out when religion and niggles have allowed but the perennial strugglers have only won two league games this season. One promising sign is that 22-year-old Scottish prop Grant Shiells has played for at least half an hour in every Falcons league game this season.
Hugo Southwell (Wasps), Jim Hamilton, Rory Lawson, Scott Lawson, Alasdair Strokosch (all Gloucester), Bruce Douglas, Alex Grove (both Worcester), Jack Cuthbert and Simon Taylor (both Bath) have all played regularly but find themselves in lower table obscurity. At 4th placed Irish Joe Ansbro and Ross Samson haven’t played every game, but they’ve played, and at 2nd place Saracens the ever-consistent Kelly Brown has been playing in a number of hard fought victories.
Down in the English Championship there is even more fighting going on. Gordon Ross has been playing consistently for London Welsh and the team are currently surprising everyone as they sit 2nd in the league. At the bottom of that table with no wins Esher rugby have been giving game time to former Heriot’s and Stirling County centre Richard Mill.
In between these two sides there are lots of Scotsmen plying their trade. At Cornish Pirates mouthy second row Ian Nimmo has played a lot. At struggling Moseley abrasive young flanker Michael Maltmann has been scrapping away. Borderer Garry Law (Rotherham Titans), hooker Neil Cochrane (Bedford Blues), and prop Stuart Corsar (Doncaster Knights) are all experienced players. Corsar also plays with ex-Currie winger Dougie Flockhart and there are plenty of others learning their way in that league.
Led by back-rower Lewis Calder London Scottish have a number of young Scots qualified players fighting to stay up in their first stint in the Championship. Also at this level is a man described last season as “the best full-back in the league”. Steve McColl signed for Leeds Carnegie in the summer after an impressive run at Doncaster Knights. The former Edinburgh Rugby Academy product quickly made an impression, playing six matches and scoring two tries, but in November he was ruled out for three months due to shoulder surgery. Head coach Diccon Edwards remained optimistic saying “obviously our aim this season is to make sure we are in the play-offs in the New Year and by having the operation now the hope is that Stevie will be back available for the first play-off game”. It is tight in that league and obviously it can take its toll on players.
Much farther afield some men have been grafting in the Top 14 of France.
At big-spending Clermont Nathan Hines and Jason White have been fighting to propel the team to 2nd in the league whilst Maxwell Evans (as he is billed on the Castres website. At centre, no less) and Scott Murray are in third with their Castres Olympique side. As promising back Mark Bennett was badly injured just as he arrived at Clermont Auvergne and Rory Lamont fled Toulon for Glasgow there is currently no other Scottish involvement in France’s top division…
Indeed there is very little Scottish involvement in other top divisions anywhere else on the globe. Sean Lamont is in with the furniture at the Scarlets, Nikki Walker is at Ospreys, Simon Danielli is at Ulster and Scott MacLeod is in Japan. These players are either known, or discarded.
Sean Maitland, the Canterbury Crusaders winger, also has Scottish parentage and is famous enough and talented enough to be on Robinson’s radar. There are murmurs that Scotland may be looking to replenish dry spots in our talent pool from foreign sources. Of course it would be a tough one to convince someone like Maitland that giving up on All Black dreams may suit his long term ambitions. On the other hand it is also naive to think that an International Union cannot liaise with companies like the Essentially Group or Aspire Management to allow them an open dialogue with any Southern Hemisphere players considering a move north and a change of allegiances.
However, those mentioned are either players that the Scotland selectors will know about or that have come from outside our own borders. The Scotsman proclaimed last week that the SRU would utilise the likes of “Rob Brierley and Dave Butcher [who have] establishing a good network across England of Scottish-qualified talent”. Such moves would be to track ‘project players’ like Mike Cusack, Tim Visser or players from the Southern Hemisphere.
I just hope that when they plan these ‘projects’ they do not forget about those young Scots who took a risk heading out of Scotland and hardening themselves in harsh leagues, sometimes at great personal cost.