IT is one of the regrettable consequences of professional rugby that huge numbers of promising young players are now paid good money to train, rather than play, the game they love.
Falkirk’s finest, flanker Lewis Wynne, played 15 times for Glasgow in the 2016-17 season but, with the arrival of Kiwi Callum Gibbins, the Scot was slowly squeezed out of the Warriors’ match-day squad and was forced to move on to get some much-needed time in the saddle.
He headed to London Scottish last Autumn on a season-long loan, and despite being recalled by the SRU to turn out for Edinburgh when they found themselves short in November, the 22-year-old still made a big enough impact with the exiles to not only earn a permanent contract with the club but also be made team captain.
London Scottish have a fine history of taking in young Scottish talent and returning them whence they came better prepared for the rigours of the professional game. Georges Horne and Turner both played for the exiles and both have a decent shout of making Gregor Townsend’s World Cup 31. Glasgow pairing D’Arcy Rae and Rory Hughes spent time with the ‘London Jocks’, as did Edinburgh duo Callum Hunter-Hill and David Cherry.
This weekend Wynne, who represented Scotland nine times at Under-20s level in 2015 and 2016, has a priceless opportunity to impress the likes of Edinburgh boss Richard Cockerill when he leads London Scottish against Edinburgh at Murrayfield, with a 2pm kick-off on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a massive chance, definitely,” says the flanker from the exiles’ training base at Glenalmond College in Perthshire. “You are in the shop window. Going to Murrayfield and seeing Cockers and people like that. I will just play my own game and see if they like it. You are in the shop window and you never know who is watching.
“It could be a chance for an upset [with so many Edinburgh players in the Scotland training squad]. Obviously, my focus is on London Scottish and getting prepared for the season but we just have to play our best game.”
Whether Wynne has improved as a player during his exile in London, we will see on Saturday, but he is undoubtedly a different proposition to the one that took the well-trodden road south.
A change of style
For one thing, he is 10kgs heavier than he was: still an open-side but, he concedes, “a more cuddly one” than the svelte seven we might remember. It is down to the style of play in England’s Championship which may not match the PRO14 for speed but it is nevertheless relentless in its physicality.
“It was a shock to me,” he says. “Down here it is so forward orientated. Any penalty you get goes straight into the corner. Everyone plays the same way and usually the weather is quite bad.
“I played the first game and I was in shock at the size of the massive forwards coming around the corner! They maul you to oblivion and then come around the corner.
“It’s completely different but it is my game, being physical. You grow up quick or you get out. I enjoy it. You learn one style of game with Glasgow and a completely different one here [in the Championship] so it’s good for your rugby education.”
Wynne isn’t the only London Scot with a point to prove on Saturday. Alex Toolis, twin brother of Scotland lock Ben, returns to play against the club that released him a few years back. South African prop Kyle Whyte never got much of a chance to shine as a partnership player at Edinburgh last season and James Malcolm’s set-piece expertise would surely suit Edinburgh more than Glasgow who allowed him to leave Scotstoun.
All three players are big and physical which should make them competitive against Edinburgh on Saturday and in the upcoming English Championship season.
Behind the scrum, former Glasgow Hawk Bobby Beattie – who moved South midway through last season after failing to land a contract at Warriors – has been impressing the coaching team and is set to start start in the centre.
The London Scots flirted with relegation last season before climbing to safety, but the exiles’ new Scottish skipper is confident of a better showing this time round.
“Top five,” he insists, when asked where the Scots should be aiming. “Boys are flying in training and raring to go. I definitely think we can push for top five.”
A good showing against Edinburgh on Saturday would be a start.