SOME rugby careers go off like a rocket and the player can find that he or she has reached the giddy-heights of being a fully-fledged internationalist before having a chance to draw breath. Other careers burn more slowly, and the player has to dig deep into his or her reserves of resilience and self-belief to make it through. Dave Cherry definitely fits into the second category, and the 30-year-old believes that the long path trodden will stand him in good stead if – as seems increasingly likely – he finally gets his shot at the big time during the upcoming Six Nations.
With neck injuries ruling Fraser Brown out and rendering Stuart McInally a major doubt [he is still awaiting a specialist opinion] for next month’s Championship opener away to England, Cherry appears to be the likeliest understudy to George Turner at hooker in that match.
If he is, it will be well-deserved reward for an individual who came up the hard way through the English Championship and Federale 2 in France, and who started this season as third choice hooker at Edinburgh, but grabbed his opportunities when given a chance to make an impact off the bench, and then put in a timely all-action display for the full 80-minutes during last weekend’s narrow defeat at Glasgow Warriors.
“I loved it,” he beams. “I can’t remember the last time I went 80 minutes. That’s where you want to be – in the starting jersey – so you just have to take the opportunity. That’s what we’re here for – to play sport hard and try to get that starting jersey.”
It is not so much that Cherry is a late bloomer – he captained Scotland at Under-18 level over a decade ago and also played 10 games for the Under-20s during 2011 – more like the narrow funnel of two pro teams in Scotland meant that there wasn’t a natural route for him to reach the next level during his early days in senior rugby.
“I captained the Under-18s and then, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out for me so I went away to university and got my degree (Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Northumbria), but I always said to my parents that I wanted to play rugby for a living so I went out and was pro-active about doing that,” he explains. “I didn’t take no for an answer, I guess.
“I had to call around a lot of coaches in the English Championship and eventually, through an agent, I got to London Scottish. I had three years there where you’re doing every rep in training, you’re playing a lot of minutes and you’re training outside in all sort of weather, so it was a bit of a reality check.”
Murrayfield took notice and decided he would benefit from a year with partner club Stade Nicois playing in the famously brutal third tier of French rugby. “That was a completely different kettle of fish, where there’s no touch judges and it’s every man for himself,” he recalls.
Then came his big break when Edinburgh offered him a full-time deal in the summer of 2018, and within a matter of months of joining his hometown club he was one of three uncapped hookers alongside Grant Stewart and Jake Kerr called into Scotland’s 2019 Six Nations training squad, to cover the absence of the injured Brown and Turner.
While the other two hookers were capped before the year was out, Cherry is still waiting, but he took a lot from that exposure to the senior Scotland squad, and now – two years down the line – he believes he is ready to go one better, assuming he clears the first hurdle of being select in Gregor Townsend’s initial training squad, which will be named before lunchtime tomorrow [Wednesday].
“It is a different style to Edinburgh,” says Cherry. “It is a lot faster, I would say, and a bit more unstructured. It is fun to be part of because I like to get the ball in my hands.
“I didn’t get an opportunity [in 2019] but it gave me taste for it. Going in, you’ve got to be hungry, willing to learn and ready to take the opportunity if it ever comes your way.
“I’m well-travelled, I’ve been about the leagues, and I always thought I was good enough to play at this level, but it was a big step up at first,” he adds. “I’ve fitted in pretty well at Edinburgh these last two years and I’ve put in some good performances recently, so I don’t think I’m a million miles off.
“I’ve just got to focus on myself. I think I’ve matured as a player. In my opinion, I’ve produced some good performances. As I’ve always said, it’s not up to me who picks the squad, it’s just up to me to play well and put my name forward and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
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While being named in the Scotland squad would be a huge moment, Cherry insists that his number one priority for the remainder of the week will remain Edinburgh’s away match against Zebre on Saturday afternoon, as the team look to bounce back from their Warriors set-back.
“I think about the here and now,” he says. “A few people have been trying to get into me about that [potential Scotland call-up], but it was Glasgow last week, and now it is Zebre this week – you can’t get ahead of yourself.”
Jamie Ritchie [head], Ben Toolis [toe], Duhan van der Merwe [knee] and Damien Hoyland [ankle] could all come back into contention for Edinburgh this week, while Darcy Graham is still missing for personal reasons.