SAM Hidalgo-Clyne has played his best rugby of the season so far over the last couple of games, in Edinburgh’s wins over London Irish and Krasny Yar. He knows it, regular watchers of the scrum-half know it, and Gregor Townsend knows it too.
But while the 24-year-old looks set to hold on to his place in Richard Cockerill’s squad for Saturday’s PRO14 match in Treviso, his fine form has not been enough to win him a place in the Scotland squad for the Autumn Tests, with Edinburgh team-mate Nathan Fowles getting the nod as third No 9 behind Ali Price and Henry Pyrgos of Glasgow. The announcement of that squad earlier this week was just the latest in a number of frustrations for Hidalgo-Clyne as he strives to return to the status he enjoyed a couple of years ago as heir apparent to Greig Laidlaw, but he knows he can do nothing about it other than heed Townsend’s advice about his game, and do his best to keep up the good displays for Edinburgh.
“It’s obviously very disappointing,” Hidalgo-Clyne admitted on Tuesday, just after the composition of the squad had been made public. “I’ve just got to grit my teeth and get on with it. Just got to keep working on it, really. I feel like I’m playing well for Edinburgh: I’ve just got to keep playing well and try to get back into that Scotland set-up.
“I got a call from Gregor last night, which was nice of him to call me and give me some feedback on what he thought. He told me I was playing my best rugby of the season. He also told me what he wanted and what he expects from all the other scrum-halves and things I need to work on.
“He wants a few more games like last week. Whether or not that would have changed selection is up to him, but for me I’ve now got to focus on what I need to do in the coming weeks to put me in good stride for Edinburgh and Scotland. You’re always pretty gutted and upset for the first couple of days, but once you get over that little hill you just accept it and set yourself goals you want to achieve and you strive for that.”
That brief chat with Townsend not only helped Hidalgo-Clyne clarify his goals, it also made plain what the national coach is looking for from his team as a whole: an ambitious, adventurous style of play which demands high skill levels and supreme fitness in equal measure. “Gregor has made it quite clear what he’s looking for,” the scrum-half continued. “He’s wanting to play the fastest tempo rugby in the world. So you look at the players he’s going to put into that team and what he wants. They’ve got high expectations and are looking in great detail at all the players and exactly what they’re producing on the pitch.”
Asked what Townsend specifically told him about his own game, Hidalgo-Clyne continued: “I’ll probably keep most of it to myself, but it’s the same as what he wants from all nines. He wants fast tempo, good service and speed to breakdown.
“That’s pretty much it. The ins and outs I’ll keep to myself, but he’s been pretty clear on what he wants from everyone, to be honest. I’ll keep playing, and if I get an opportunity for Edinburgh this weekend I’ll look to put my marker down again and keep Gregor thinking.”
Versatility has always been one of Hidalgo-Clyne’s strong suits, and he displayed that quality over the past couple of weeks by slotting in at No 10 when starting Edinburgh fly-half Jason Tovey went off. But, while he has also played in the back three and is willing to help out wherever required, he is adamant that he will continue to regard No 9 as his main position.
“Listen, if I’m needed [at 10] for Edinburgh then I’m more than happy to fit into that slot. Dunky [Weir] will be coming back, I’m sure, in the next few weeks. Toves is hopefully fine this weekend, but we’ll find out. We have other players that can slot into that position, but if they need me I’ll do the job.”
Doing the job on Saturday against Benetton, for the Edinburgh squad as a whole, means playing with far greater consistency than they did when they lost to the same opponents at Myreside earlier in the season. But the Italians have improved since then, and at home in Treviso will be no pushovers, as they showed in losing by just a single point in their Champions Cup game against Toulon last week.
“We’ve done a lot of detail on Treviso,” Hidalgo-Clyne continued. “We fell short to them at home. More through our mistakes than them, but I think they have improved vastly over last season. They’re actually a pretty good team who have been getting good results or close to good results. We’ll certainly not take them lightly. We’ve got a game plan to squeeze out a win in a tough place to go to.
“They did pretty well against Toulon and Bath. We’ve been there before. We’ve lost to them over there so we need to have the right mindset this week, put everything behind us and get a win, because it’s a really important game for our season.”