IT might have been frustrating at the time, but Charlie Shiel believes that his two seasons behind Henry Pyrgos and one season behind Nic Groom in the Edinburgh scrum-half pecking order has been time well spent. Now the 22-year-old is ready to use the lessons learned from those more experienced players to underpin his quest for more regular access to the capital club’s No9 jersey during the 2020-21 season – which kicks off against the Ospreys at Murrayfield on Saturday night.
“Their game management has been one of the biggest things I’ve learned,” he said. “There have been times during analysis sessions when I’ve watched the two of them more than the actual game itself. It’s great to have them to feed off.
“Like any young guy, when you are involved in a professional set-up and you get that taste for it, you just want more and more,” he added. “So, it can be a bit frustrating when you don’t get game-time, but looking back at it now, for someone in my position, it probably has been a good thing to be almost drip-fed in – and I think that has got me to where I am now with how my game has progressed.”
“It was more the leadership and tactical side [that I needed to work on]. The one thing the coaches have spoken to me about is that when you are coming up through the age-grades, or playing club rugby, as a nine you are there to pass the ball and run, and I find that a lot easier than the kicking side of it and barking at these big Scotland players to command them around the pitch. So, it’s that sort of control that I’ve been trying to work on.
“But now that I’ve been here for three seasons it feels like it’s time to step up. I know that I can do it, it’s just a case of showing to others that I can do it. With getting more game time now, I’m finding it easier to find my feet.”
As is invariably the case, it was his rivals’ misfortune which handed Shiel his chance. Pyrgos missed Edinburgh’s final four games of the 2019-20 season at the end of August and beginning of September with a concussion which still hasn’t cleared, while Groom was unavailable for the team’s European Challenge Cup quarter-final showdown against Bordeaux-Begles a fortnight ago due to a groin complaint (although he is fit again now).
Shiel, meanwhile, was in tip-top condition throughout, and after scoring an excellent, individualist, match-clinching try against Glasgow in the first game back after lockdown, he made only his third start for the club a week later in the inter-city return match, then came off the bench in the PRO14 play-off defeat to Ulster, before playing the full 80-minutes against Bordeaux.
While results haven’t gone his team’s way, the exposure has boosted his belief that he is ready to thrive at this level.
“The two games against Glasgow and Bordeaux which I started in have been massive for me,” he explains. “They were two huge games against big teams. It was a great opportunity for me to show that I’m not just a 20-minute man at the end of a game. I want to show that I can play a full 80 minutes. I want to show I can do the same as what the other two guys can do, if not more.
“The best thing I can do now is just keep practising things in training and hopefully get that level of trust from the coaches.
“It’s like anything else, the more you’re exposed to it and the more you experience it, then the more you’ll develop it.”
Shiel has some pretty serious rugby pedigree. His late grandfather, Dougie Morgan, was also a scrum-half, who captained Scotland and toured with the Lions in the 1970s, while his father Graham Shiel also played for Scotland, in the centre, and is now head coach of the Boroughmuir Bears Super6 franchise.
The latest in the dynasty has ambitions to follow in those auspicious footsteps, and realises that he won’t be far away if he does manage to establish himself in the Edinburgh team during the next few weeks and months, but he also knows there is still a lot of work to do and lessons to be learned.
“There’s some quality nines kicking about, you’ve got Ali Price and George Horne [at Glasgow], and there’s good guys down south like Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who’s been involved before,” he points out.
“For me, personally, being involved with Scotland would be a good goal, so it’s up to me in the coming weeks to push as hard as I can in the game-time that I get for that role. It would be a good outcome if I could get involved.”