Premiership: Edinburgh Accies second-row Struan Whittaker on life after the academy

22-year-old says Raeburn Place side are ready to push for a play-off place

Struan Whittaker and Edinburgh Accies are aiming for Premiership play-offs. Image: John Wright
Struan Whittaker and Edinburgh Accies are aiming for Premiership play-offs. Image: John Wright

STRUAN WHITTAKER has played against NFL-hopeful Louis Rees-Zammit and can count Scotland squad new boy Harry Paterson as a former team-mate, which are just two stand-out notes that are on his fairly impressive rugby CV for someone aged just 22.

And the good news is that, after two injury-hit years in the Scottish Rugby academy set up which ended during the early stages of the Covid pandemic, he has come out the other side and is currently loving his rugby with Edinburgh Accies in the Premiership.

Whittaker was an academy-supported player between leaving school in 2018 and the summer of 2020 and, in the first of those two years, was a member of the Scotland under-18 squad that went to the age-grade Six Nations Festival in Gloucester.


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In the under-18s he played alongside the likes of Paterson, Glasgow Warriors trio Jamie Dobie, Alex Samuel and Gregor Brown, and Edinburgh Rugby duo Matt Currie and Cameron Scott amongst others.

He also played against Wales and British & Irish Lions flyer Rees-Zammit at that level and looks back on the Six Nations Festival in April 2019 with fondness.

“That under-18s trip to Gloucester was a really good experience,” second-row Whittaker reflected. “We had a really good squad including a number of guys who have gone on to play professional rugby while anyone who comes up against someone of the pace of Louis Rees-Zammit is going to feel tested!

“I learnt a lot on that trip, the rugby was much more structured and organised than I had been used to before, but I enjoyed the challenge. The way some of my team-mates trained and their dedication was an eye opener too, but it made me want to work harder and keep learning in those type of environments.

“It was during my first year as a member of the Scottish Rugby academy so I was really keen to kick on at that point.

“Unfortunately, I had already suffered one hamstring injury earlier that season which had put me out for a while before the Six Nations Festival, and then in the pre-season period heading into 2019-20 I was hit by another hamstring injury

“That kept me out until around the turn of the year heading into 2020, and although I managed to get back playing, the lockdowns and things then came in [from late March 2020] and I just felt I could never get a good run at it.

“Those injuries meant that my first two years at Accies post-school were really stop-start, so my under-20s chances took a  hit and the lay-offs affected my time in the Scottish Rugby academy too.

“It would have been nice to get a good run of full fitness while I was in the academy set-up, but it wasn’t to be and when I was coming out of that system in the summer of 2020 with lockdowns in full flow, I was feeling a bit down and a bit frustrated.

 

“However, I did have some really good experiences, made friends and took a lot of learnings from being in that academy environment and I knew that I wanted to keep my rugby going.

“Thankfully, I was already linked with Edinburgh Accies and when rugby at club level got up and running again I was keen to give it a go with them and just enjoy playing.”

By that point Whittaker was two years into a four-year degree at Edinburgh University and he went on to play some 1st XV matches in the Premiership when club rugby returned properly in 2021-22.

“That was good, just to build up my experience of senior rugby, but then I broke my arm in the first pre-season game of 2022-23 and that put me out again for quite a long spell,” Whittaker, who has now graduated and works for Scottish Widows, said.

“As I was coming back from injury I played a few games for Accies when we reached the Premiership play-offs in early 2023 and then one of our coaches, Chris Martin, put me in touch with Boroughmuir Bears.

“I was able to join them for the Super Series Sprint event and that was really just to help me get a good run of games after the Premiership campaign had finished.

“I can’t thank Bears head coach Graham Shiel and everyone else at Meggetland enough for the way they welcomed me into that environment and I enjoyed playing at that level and didn’t feel out of place.”

That experience in April and May 2023 allowed Whittaker to head into pre-season ahead of 2023-24 with Accies feeling in a good spot and so far this season he has been an important man for the Raeburn Place outfit, who have struggled across the squad with a high number of injuries.

“I love it at Accies and, although this campaign has been a bit up and down for us, last week’s win over Glasgow Hawks puts us in with a shot of the play-offs and we just have to keep building over the next few games,” he added.

“We know the strength that we have in our squad and the talent that is around, so if we can click in the coming weeks there is no reason why we can’t make the top four and the play-offs once again.

“And, personally, I am just really enjoying my rugby just now. We have a great bunch of boys at Accies with everything headed up by Berti [Iain Berthinussen] as head coach and he is really good to work with.”

Accies host fellow play-off chasers Kelso in their third last game of the league season on Saturday, with a 2pm kick-off at Raeburn Place (frost permitting).

 

Going back in time, while he had been to a few summer camps and sessions in his primary school years, Whittaker’s rugby journey really began properly when he was in senior school at Trinity Academy.

He began playing for the school and also discovered Edinburgh BATs Rugby, who bring players together who are linked to local clubs Broughton, Edinburgh Accies and Trinity Accies, as well as those from a number of different local schools in the north of the capital.

“BATs was brilliant fun,” Whittaker explains. “At first I was quite nervous heading in because there were people there from all different schools and clubs, but we all came together to play for the same team and it was good.

“A lot of good players have come through the BATs set up and seeing Harry Paterson, who I played with there, getting a Scotland call up this week was so pleasing.

“Not everyone who plays for BATs will reach Harry’s level, of course, but if the set-up there keeps producing guys who play social rugby and a decent level of club rugby like me then that is the main thing – rugby should be enjoyed by all.”


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About Gary Heatly 441 Articles
Gary has loved rugby ever since he can remember and since 2004 he has covered the sport and others in a professional capacity for many publications and websites and runs his own company, GH Media.

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