CAMERON HUTCHISON was ready to move in a whole new direction when he dropped out of the Scottish Rugby Academy in the summer of 2019 after a miserable season playing in the French third tier for SRU partnership club Stade Nicois.
“It was tough,” he explains. “It was still early days for the club as professional. They were still trying to adjust to things and the facilities weren’t quite there. We had to join public gyms and go on our own. Our weight sessions consisted of us putting discs into a shopping cart and wheeling them out onto the pitch.
“The league we were in was quite front-five dominated. As a centre who was trying to see a lot of the ball, it really wasn’t coming that much.
“When you find out you’re not been kept on it can get a bit frustrating. It can be quite isolating out there as well. That’s what I found. I went through a lot of dark times in France not really knowing what I was doing.
“[So] my mindset coming back from Nice was that I was ready to call it a day. I was thinking about what was going to be my next chapter. When I found out I wasn’t getting kept on (in the Scottish Rugby Academy), I became comfortable and happy with the level I had played at. Reaching Scotland Under-20s is still better than a lot of guys do.”
Still only 21 at the time, it would have been a tragedy if Hutchison – who returned from 13 months out with a ruptured ACL and a shoulder reconstruction to be a key player for Scotland Under-20s during the 2018 Junior World Championship – had walked away from the game at that point. Fortunately, an approach from Ciaran Beattie – the initial head coach of the Heriot’s Super6 franchise – persuaded him to keep his hand in.
“I had heard about Super6 as a new league but I hadn’t really enquired about it,” he says. “I wasn’t too bothered about trying to join a club, but there were a few clubs who were trying to get me to go to Super6. Having that demand for me to go back and play gave me a bit of confidence. If I wasn’t going to go back to playing professionally at least I could do a job for these guys.
“When Beatts (Beattie) got in touch, that really sparked my need to get back enjoying rugby. It wasn’t about playing for Edinburgh or getting a pro contract, it was just about enjoying the game. With that came a couple of good performances and I felt I had a really strong second half to the season, but there was still no call from Edinburgh, so I felt that that door was closed.”
By the time lockdown hit last March, Hutchison was fully immersed in developing his career away from the game, so it came as a bolt from the blue when he received a call from Edinburgh team manager Matt Cornwell nine months ago.
“I had moved on,” he recalls. “[I was] back at university, coaching at my local school, playing for Heriot’s and working for an executive search company [Carlyle Associates]. It was in November when Deano [Chris Dean] and George [Taylor] both got injured in the same game and within the space of 24 hours I was sitting in my company office when I got a call from the team manager asking if I could come in, get a PCR test and do 10-day isolation. That flipped everything on its head.
“I was in and out over Christmas, and then I managed to get some game time in May and June. It’s been an absolute rollercoaster to get to this point. But I think that only plays in my favour.
“Boys are going to have dips in their career, it’s inevitable. And I feel I have built up pretty good resilience. I’m hoping that will add to my longevity.”
Having marked his debut with a try off the bench against Ulster in Edinburgh’s penultimate game of last year’s Rainbow Cup campaign, Hutchison – who is now 23 – then started against Scarlets the following week, when he beat seven defenders with his hard running in midfield.
The reward was a partnership contract for the 2021-22 campaign. That means he will continue to turn out for Heriot’s in Super6 if not required by Edinburgh. However, having finally found a way into the Edinburgh set-up, he has no intention of being just canon-fodder at training.
There is going to be plenty of competition. Taylor and Dean were already on the books, while Scotland international James Lang arrived in the capital this summer from Harlequins and has declared that he is focussed on playing at 12.
“We’ll all be fighting to put ours hands up so it’s just a matter of taking opportunities when they come,” says Hutchison. “It’s a long season. Whatever Mike [Blair] decides to go with, it’s always bound to change at some point. As long as I’m ready and fit when called upon, I’m just looking to learn and be as good as I can throughout the next year.
“Although it has taken me a long time, 23 is not past it and I still have a few years to reach my peak and learn what I can.”