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Keeping an eye out for contenders for the top

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John Beattie | 17:13 UK time, Sunday, 15 April 2012

Go on, give me your rugby tip for the top. The person you play with or have seen playing that you think, given some proper training and the right environment, could play for his or her country?

So, there I was watching the Melrose Sevens and tuning up my guitar for the gig in the tent afterwards, during which Kelly Brown would joins us for a song.

The game that caught my eye was a Jedforest one. Two tall, young, fairly skinny twin brothers called Lewis and Gregor Young were outstanding. Boy, do they have pace. Jed progressed to the semi-final and promptly knocked out holders and hosts Melrose, the Young brothers to the fore.

And it got me thinking: Having watched Kelly Brown play sevens as a lad I could only compare them to him. It was great to see two young players that looked as though they had the attributes to go all the way.

It doesn't mean they will, but they might. They'd already helped Jed to win the Gala sevens, now they were in the Melrose final, although Saracens were just too professional and too strong.

Saracens, by the way, were wearing red - which, according to leading researchers, is the colour that helps you win. And that explains just why so many politicians wear red ties too. There are even suggestions that leaving red out of the Olympic kit to such a degree means team GB will win fewer medals that might be expected.

But I'm digressing...

Saracens triumphed at this year's Melrose Sevens

When I was a kid I played alongside a wing forward called Iain Jarvie who should have played for Scotland. Of all the players I've ever come into contact with he's the one where I've thought: he slipped through the net. Big, fast, and with a hand-off as fierce as a steam train's piston, he probably just played for the wrong club - mine.

As coach at West of Scotland a few years ago I saw Robert Harley, Murray McConnell and Pat McArthur play senior rugby very early on and in the case of the first two they were both still at school and running rings round grown men. Or, in Harley's case, tackling them backwards with the force of a couple of neutron bombs.

All over the UK there are players who are good enough, but never make it. Perhaps it's one of life's mysteries as to why some youngsters drop out the game and others, of lesser talent but perhaps a better work ethic or support structure, go on to win.

At every club in the county there is probably a player who could, if captured early enough by the system, go on to play international rugby.

I got that feeling when I saw Duncan Weir play as a schoolboy in a losing team but he was a stand-out, Jon Welsh in his first game for West as a young pro, and Mark Bennett when he played for a Scotland age group team on the pitch across from my house.

And it's the kind of pressure they may or not cope with but when you see two young blokes with size and speed in the shape of the Young brothers from Jed then you have to think that they might just make it. There were other great young players around too of course.

There you are, a couple of tips for the top from me. So I want to hear from you, not matter how old, who have you played alongside or seen play that you think deserves a cap one day?


  • Comment number 1.

    Me!!! Think I'd be great but live abroad.

  • Comment number 2.

    Ben Ransom the young Saracens outside back really impressed me (was wearing No.8). Saw this guy play for the England under-20's last year and he looked a class act then. Not the biggest guy but has a lot of time on the ball, good pace and pretty strong for his size.

  • Comment number 3.

    There were only two players I played with/ against at schoolboy level that I was sure would go onto play for Scotland. One was Chris Cusiter who became one of the youngest Lions of all time and the other was Stuart Corsar who made it as far as the A team and played for Glasgow Warriors, then Doncaster in England. A prop who played like a flanker, just relentless.

  • Comment number 4.

    Having just finished my final season of school boys 1st XV rugby there were three players at the sevens yesterday that I have played against in the last couple of seasons.

    The first was Jamie Farndale who impressed with his incredible pace for Edinburgh Accies who was playing for Edinburgh Academy when I played him.

    The second was Sam Hidalgo-Clyne who came on for Heriots and he dominated us from fly-half whilst at Merchiston.

    And the third was Dominic Johnstone who was playing for George Watsons when we drew with them away before christmas.

    Its good to see players that you have gone toe-to-toe with making progress beyond the school game.

  • Comment number 5.

    My two for the future are South African lads, Lean Schwartz (Openside) and Gerno Ecksteen (Lock), both current Blue Bulls Under 21's , they were part of an extremely talented Hoerskool Waterkloof team I played against in 2009, there was a Springbok Loosehead aswell but for the life of me I can't remember his name, also a Blue Bull at the time.

  • Comment number 6.

    Carl Burgess of Old Northamptonians when I was playing for Northampton Old Scouts. He was my opposite number in the 2nd row. He's 6ft 7in (or 6ft 9in depending on what you read), I'm 6ft 3in. He literally bullied me off the field. It was like playing against a giant. He went on to play professionally for Coventry, but then got busted for heading a criminal gang that made hundreds of thousands of pounds from drug dealing, money counterfeiting and grand theft and sentenced to 15 years. I still play a bit for our 3rd team. It can be fair to assume that Carl Burgess hasn't played since his arrest in 2009. Such a waste of a rugby tallent. Although his tallent for bullying probably still comes in handy.

  • Comment number 7.

    There were 3 players in my school year who were terrific rugby players, all full backs, but didn't come close to making it.

    The first boy had huge speed, strength, and scored tries from everywhere, but he wasn't interested in playing competitive rugby at the weekends, so he never played for our school, despite hammering boys who were playing for the then Caledonia U-18.

    The second boy was also terrific, a phenomenal athlete, a very even match for the first one, and they were the only ones that could tackle each other. But he was English and not as interested in Scottish regional and national representation, and moreover, he had a difficult attitude. With the right attitude and development, he could easily have represented England, even as an exile.

    The last boy was a very hard player with a huge natural ability and a guaranteed try-scorer.

    They, and many more decent players next to them, all slipped through the cracks.

    I represented my district and came closer to the international set-up than those far better players, because my birthday fell before a certain date [January/ February/ March] and I was drafted for the under 16s. If I had been born a day after that date, I would have been competing with boys up to 2 years older and 2 years bigger than me for a place in the U-18s. The physical difference between 16 and 18 is huge.

    Many other boys in my year were ignored, and missed an opportunity to make the step up to district. If there had been a U-17 level, many more of them would have gotten their chance.

    This is crucial because Scottish kids tend to quit school earlier, at a point when many are still 16/ 17.

    In English schools, most students leave after their A-Levels and due to the educational set up keeping them in school a year later than most Scots, they tend not to be younger than 18 when they go onto higher education or the workforce. They stay in the schools system for longer, which is tidier in terms of ensuring they get to fulfil their potential at all school age grades and they are monitored, nurtured and mature in a consistent and secure environment before stepping up to university, club or professional level.

    Whereas Scottish kids tend to drop out of school ASAP, or leaving early to take clearing places and a minority stick around till 6th year of high school. I could have gone to university at 16, and I would have stayed 16 for 6 months of university before my 17th birthday. As it was I did the optional 6th year and was 17, and stayed 17 for 6 months etc. Where people like me would have fit into the age grade set-up, I’m not sure. I presume to be considered for the U-18, I'd need to walk into the university first XV, or a top level club XV at the age of 16-18. Tricky...

    Compared to the English, we have a very leaky age grade set-up, and lose a lot of promising players, partly due to the unique and awkward nature of the Scottish educational system.

  • Comment number 8.

    One lad i witnessed playing was the best blindside flanker i've seen take to the rugby field on an amateur basis, a fairly squat chap absolute power house! Scary in the tackle, my god he's smashed me in the garden a few times an outstanding ball carrier agile yet powerful made a ahbit of breaking the gain line. The breakdown he was something else won ball he had no right to win sublime! Got offered a trial for the Scottish Exiles and went on skiing holiday instead complete waste!
    The second best player i've seen was playing u17 rugby this season a mere 6 foot tall inside centre, beautiful vision for space, given a gap only a fag paper could slip thru this lad found it cracking pace. Solid defence in 7 games i've seen him play missed just the 1 tackle. Passes ok but needs refining definite potential and an exceptional leader even at youth rugby thinks the game through and tends to make the right calls and soothe the bothered brow of his hot headed front row! Both of the above are my brothers and being a middle child makes the praise even harder to give!!

  • Comment number 9.

    There were a few I played with that were highly talented players at youth level. Some just dropped away due to the step up in size/intensity/hits that came with growing up. Was one lad at Heriots that terrorized teams at age levels, big fast, strong and regularly just ran through the opposition but he just disappeared when the age groups merged and it wasn't so easy and think he'd even given up by the time his final year came round.

    I played in a fairly talented team and for our age group, and was part of a good back row where all 3 of us were picked at district level and 2 of us made it to the Scotland team. Of the three I felt I was the l least talented but just tried my hardest and it seemed to pay off. Our No. 8 was a phenominal athlete but had such a relaxed attitude that he drifted from the game post high school. I suffered from injuries but tried to keep playing as long as I could but by the time I had to hang up the boots at 23 I was one of the last ones left playing from my old team. Guessing some of the others just didn't have the drive/time to keep themselves involved.

    Some did make it though from the Scotland team I was involved with both Mike Blair and Rory Lawson made the grade. Don't remember much about Mike but Rory was always a good player and tough to go up against when he played at Dollar Academy.

  • Comment number 10.

    Played with a lad throughout my teens and early 20's who is the most gifted footballer/ball player I've ever seen. He came into the game late (17 I think) but had all the skills (seriously, all of them). A huge flat pass off both hands, slight of hand, incredible footwork (I saw him dance through an entire 7's team for fun), searing yet effortless pace, a huge and accurate boot, great tackler, excellent awareness of space and feel for the game...only thing that went against him was that he was the most marked man in the league.

    Could have gone all the way if he didn't get sucked into to staying with the small town team by the 'old' guard' at the club. He wa scouted often enough but always made to feel guilty by the old foggies for showing an interest in developing himself....still, a true pleasure to play with.

  • Comment number 11.

    Sorry to raise this here but please can we get rid of the "Is Gavin Henson's career in the balance" blog. A) it has been here a ludicrously long time and B) I cannot be the only person who doesn't give a jot about this over rated prima donna who apart from a tackle on an 18 year old lightweight and a good penalty kick has achieved very little. It is an insult to the hundreds of quality, industrious, loyal and highly committed rugby players, most of whom can handle their alcohol intake, who never get a mention for this nobody to attract all the ridiculous media attention that he does. I sincerely hope his "career" is over and not in the balance. I dare say though that some club will be stupid enough to believe he is, yet again, a reformed character and employ him!

  • Comment number 12.

    As a rugby coach and teacher in a succesful public school I find it frustrating at both the numbers and standard of Scottish rugby. Several (around 10) of my pupils over the last 8 years have been taken up in scholarships, which for them personally is great but as a nation is poor.

    As I have read in your teachers are the future for this sport. I was well looked after as a pupil at the Royal High School but I feel the chances of public school boys nowadays are limited, not throught the fault of anyone. Unfortunatly in Scotland the only competition comes through the private sector.

    I coach ever week and for two evenings for nothing, I but i'm not in the majority. Pay teachers and the Nation would reap the benefits. Paying teachers to get "bums on seats" at a junior level would open up for the development officers to use thier knowledge at a senior level.

    Regard Frustrated

  • Comment number 13.

    going back 10 years to my school days, our openside was, and I insist to this day, the best player I have played for or against. he was, physically and in the way he played Neil Back's long lost son! As he came to the end of school he had offers from London Irish, Harlequins etc but went off to Durham Uni, where he was 1st XV skipper in his second year, won the BUSA, and Cambridge fell short of buying him a house to get him to come and do a bit of 'studying' with them, where he went on to get 2 or three blues in the varsity, picking up england universities caps in the process.

    many would argue that the above does not equal a waste, and I would too, as a masters degree from cambridge is no waste of time, but I would bet the house that I do not yet own that had he gone pro at 18 he would have many, many england caps by now

  • Comment number 14.

    Alistair Price (who played for Saracens) was part of the Scotland U'20 squad this season. He didn't get picked for any of the international games. Just because youngsters play their rugby south of the border, doesn't mean their roots (and hearts) are not in Scottish rugby. Alistair has worked and trained hard with Bedford Blues (they saw his potential). Bill Gilchrist (Oxton/Lauder), will be a proud grandfather and will be very proud to be associated with a Melrose Medal, even if his grandson did win it, via an English team.

  • Comment number 15.

    I have long been amazed at the the narrow sighted ness of the SRU and their selction policy. It is blatently obvious that they do not cast the net wide enough to evalauted the pool of talent that is available to them at schoolboy level.
    Very capable and committed players who go to state school and/or play for an unfashionable club have very little chance to make it beyond District or Regional level. Too often players are picked on reputation of their club/school and not on ability. The talent identification process for the 2011/12 season at youth level was practically non-existant!
    The SRU need to ensure that they can constantly refresh and challenge the players at the 'top' with capable competition from the ENTIRE player base.

  • Comment number 16.

    Whilst we can identify the prospects where do they go next?
    In particular why are Edinburgh signing non-Scottish qualified players?

  • Comment number 17.

    It must be remembered that rugby isn't always the be all and end all in someone's life.
    I played in an excellent junior team where at least two could have gone all the way. One succumbed to injury at a very early stage and had to give up. The other just didn't want it. He played on at a decent club level for a few years but also lived his life in other avenues and eventually gave rugby a back seat with no regrets whatsoever.
    it is also true that some selfish 'club' men try and hold talent back by laying down a guilt trip to retain their services as an earlier blog mentioned but thankfully, this seems to be a diminishing practice.
    Lastly, you do have to be in the right place at the right time. Players miss certain games for whatever reason when someone of importance is watching and their chance is gone. Also, the star man may have a rare 'off' game when under scrutiny and again, miss out.
    In this day and age, if a player carries on to club rugby and applies his or herself properly, they will get a reputation or be picked up at some time but all the afore mentioned factors (and more) have to be taken into account.

  • Comment number 18.

    I've been lucky enough to have a few brushes with greatness; they generally left me face-down in the mud!

    I was at school with Adam Buchanan-Smith - he was head and shoulders above the rest of us, all-be-it I was a couple of years behind him. He too had a great day out at Melrose before his handful of caps, it always amazed me that he didn't earn more caps given how much better than the rest of us he was at school level, a result of not growing after about his 17th birthday meaning he was always short of an few inches in heght.

    Another one was David Millar, sadly badly injured whilst at West... he was a peer of mine and a thorn in our side whenever playing Merchiston; he could and shoud have gone all the way...

    Another guy I was at school with was Ewan Donald - the closest thing we ever saw to 'the next' David Leslie, he would tackle anything and put his head anywhere, with a motor that never stopped. Sadly, he lost interest and went off and did other things...

    I also had the opportunity to train with Andrew Kerr on a few occasions - what a pleasure! Such a balanced individual (and not just on the rugby pitch), he could run rings round everyone and evade a tackle like no other.

    And finally... your good self! What a shame you were injured - my brother dragged me down to training at Accies one evening when you were just coming back from injury... you still left me standing in your wake as you put in the hard yards up and down the pitch!

    The thing that has struck me about all these individuals is that one has to be so much better than the average to become an international, whatever one's sport. Talent is a great start in that process and by no means the only route to success, but without a support structure around these individuals, they will not achieve their potential.

    I know that at least Adam B-S and David Millar benefitted from great support from their respective rugby coaches at school, but yes, they were public schools... and what thereafter? As has been stated so many times on your blogs, rugby needs to broaden its appeal and implement the support structure that other careers put in place for their potential stars of tomorrow...

  • Comment number 19.

    Your blog title makes me ask a couple of questions. Saracens were asked to replace a team that couldn't afford to travel (can't recall who). Why were both Scottish pro teams not invited to the "Sports"? a golden opportunity for the rugby public to view "the future" and an excellent environment for player development for the youth/academy players from Edinburgh & Glasgow all under the watchful eye of Mr Shiel & Townsend. Are relationships between the SRU & Melrose that poor?
    As for players who could of made it; a wee ginger hooker from Stewartry who has now progressed to being a very successful no nonsense youth coach, and his fellow tight heid prop called Les Davidson a GHK collosus who played a few years at my club - Glory days!!

  • Comment number 20.

    The fact that Glasgow and Edinburgh did not field an academy team is a disgrace. As is the signing of journeyman players non-scots qualified. What is the point? The inability of the rugby do's to produce players of the quality and quantity of the private schools is an on going source of disappointment to me. There are many players who could have made but fall by the wayside for a number of reasons, usually problems with their "heids". The wee stewartry ginger hooker could have played in any scottish club side with ease and big Les Davidson was a man mountain! I also remember a teenage full back who could kick from anywhere and run in tries for fun! Making it is a combination of luck, talent and dedication.

  • Comment number 21.

    I remember my Dad telling me about his trial for Welsh Schools in the late 40s. He was in the Anglo Welsh side which comprised age grade welsh boys from English schools and he played against the Welsh based schools side.

    As an aside he reckoned it was the toughest game he ever played in which was some standard as by all accounts his school side were feared for dirty and aggressive play by the other English schools.

    After the match he went over to his Uncle and asked his opinion of the match and who he felt stood out for selection. His Uncle replied that the Welsh schools 10 was by far the best player on the pitch, and one of the best players he had seen at any age. It turned out to be a young Cliff Morgan who went on to be a legend in the fifties.

  • Comment number 22.

    @ 19 & 20 - Would the non-entry of Edinburgh & Glasgow teams be down to the fact that both hold specific players under contract for the Scotland 7's team? I can imagine that there is probably some sort of issue or problem with availability to those players due to the national commitments. As for the rest both Edinburgh and Glasgow have thin resources for their squad otherwise and risk of injury to players whilst 1 challenges for a playoff spot and the other with a HK semi final on the way may be an acceptable precaution.

    bigbaker you mention journeyman non scots players? As I'm aware the only non-scots qualified (by current IRB rules) are Yapp, Reese and the Georgian No. 8 No problem with Yapp as I do think we need experienced cover in the front row and Chunk is getting on a bit and won't play every game. Reese I am a little confused with as although Blair is moving on I felt we had enough cover here with Leckie, Laidlaw amongst others there. Sorry the No 8's name evades me but I understand he's only 23 which is hardly a journeyman and if he turns into the next parisse I'm all for it ;-)

    I may be wrong but I think the Cheetahs prop who is coming for next year is Scots qualified, and again is only around 25 which in propping terms is a veritible youngster.

  • Comment number 23.

    In terms of whom I've noticed in person, on the rare occasions I got to travel home and the even more rare occasions when I got to watch my local club side (Ayr), I couldn't help but notice a young centre who seemed to glide through people almost at will. Just a class above. That young man plays for Clermont now and I hope to see him in the thistle in a few years time.

    I also got a call from a mate of mine a year ago who was watching Hamilton play. He was enthusing about a huge lock/loosie who was only 19 but who was demolishing everyone in his path. He could only remember his first name, "Jonny". Jonny is now the recipient of a MacPhail Scholarship and we'll be seeing him at Scotsoun next season.

    Apparently Jonny has an older brother whom some say can also play a bit.

  • Comment number 24.

    John felt compelled to write on this blog about a player Im sure you must have once watched. A former Accie in fact, Andrew Lundie at 17 years old was the best player I have ever seen at that level to play 10. He could tackle, pass, kick, make line breaks. Everything. What happened to him?

  • Comment number 25.

    Edinburgh - outwith front 5 players who by the grace of God are not built for the shortened version of this great sport, have around 30 players (31 if you count their latest overseas journeyman recruit from NZ) some of them are even listed as specialist 7s players. Glasgow a similar number, (although 1 did play for Melrose) Does this mean that no players will play any form of rugby while HK interest & top 4 league position remains achievable for both pro teams? Lack of exposure to pressure situations for youth/academy players is sadly reflected in National team results/performance at xv & 7s

  • Comment number 26.

    After years of covering the Schools rugby scene across Scotland. The player that has been the standout is Edinburgh Academy no.8 Chris Dean, he has feet like Quade Cooper and offloads like Sonny Bill. Scrum half Alexander Glashan is also a huge talent coming up through the ranks. I just hope the SRU invest wisely in them.

  • Comment number 27.

    I agree with comment #3. Stuart Corsar should've been a world class 7 and the cornerstone of the Scottish pack but instead he was 'converted' to a prop because of the ill fated wisdomos some SRU aparatchik who deemed him too short to play back row. The guy was incredible, as fast as a wing and completely fearless. No one who played with or against him would disagree. Such a shame.


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