IT is the moment all young Scottish rugby players fantasise about. In his first full season as a full-time professional, a combination of good luck and promising form means that a fledgling player with a big future finds himself sitting on the bench for the national team far sooner than he could ever have anticipated.
It is a packed house in Cardiff for the start of the Six Nations – no easing into it with a tour match in some far-flung rugby outpost – but a showdown which has been hyped through the roof by an expectant nation ready to see their team finally become a real force in the world’s greatest annual rugby tournament.
With just over an hour gone, the message arrives: Tracksuit off – you’re about to become a full Scotland cap. All that training and sacrifice and dreaming is about to come together in the moment of truth.
But there is a problem. A big problem.
The previous hour had been an unmitigated disaster for Scotland. They are 27-0 down and lucky that the deficit is not well into the 40s. The debutant’s arrival on the pitch barely registers amongst the Scotland fans in the stadium, shell-shocked by the shellacking their team is in the middle of enduring.
“It was disappointing day the way the result went. It wasn’t exactly how we wanted to start the championship. But I was delighted to get out there and start hopefully a long career of international performances,” said 21-year-old prop Murray McCallum, who must have felt like the boy who had found a penny but lost a pound as he sat in the away team’s desolate dressing-room after Saturday’s Cardiff catastrophe.
“It’s what you’ve dreamt of since you were a little boy. It’s exactly how I’d imagined it: brilliant. Almost mindboggling looking around and seeing all that. It was an experience.”
“My message coming on was just to bring energy: Go on, do your basics well, try to help the boys who had been on there for a while get their energy up and keep them going through to the final 80 minutes. We all lift each other, so I did what I could to lift the guys who had been battling for the last hour.”
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“You still want to go on and make a difference. You still have to do your job and do what you can as an individual, give it your all, finish the game as a positive. You just can’t stop. I relished the noise and the atmosphere. I loved it,” added the Dunfermline native, who came through the ranks via his hometown club’s youth section, Strathallan School, Heriot’s and Edinburgh, playing for Scotland at Under-18 and Under-20 level along the way.
McCallum is an impressive individual who conducted himself brilliantly (especially for someone so young) in a difficult post-match situation, demonstrating the maturity to recognise that while this was a grievous set-back for the Scotland team collectively, it was also important to celebrate the fact that he – personally – had just achieved the dream of many but the privilege of few … not least because he wasn’t just representing himself out there.
“My Dad, Scott, has done heaps for me: taking me to Dunfermline; and then, being in the Caledonia region, training could be as close as Kirkcaldy or it could be Stirling or up to Aberdeen, so it’s some petrol he’s put in,” the new cap smiled. “Also, school and club coaches from Paul Salt, Ian Simmons and Bob Sneddon, to Andy Henderson at Strathallan. There’s been heaps of guys along the way.”
With Simon Berghan returning from suspension this week, McCallum’s lack of experience may count against him when the match-day squad is announced on Thursday. If that is the case, the odd man out will inevitably take it in his stride, safe in the knowledge that plenty more exciting rugby opportunities are still to come his way.