Fowles gets set to fight for Scotland scrum-half slot

Nathan Fowles. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson.

THERE are easier roles in rugby than being an Edinburgh scrum-half. Not only do the trio of Nathan Fowles, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Sean Kennedy have to scrap it out for the two available places in the match-day squad every week, they then face apparently ever steeper odds when they try to battle their way into the Scotland squad.

With Greig Laidlaw out injured during the Autumn Tests, Ali Price was the starting No 9 ahead of Warriors team-mate Henry Pyrgos. Fowles was called into the squad then ahead of Hidalgo-Clyne, but was not selected to play, and in the ensuing couple of months George Horne has rocketed up the rankings thanks to some excellent outings with Glasgow.

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend will name his squad next week for the Six Nations Championship, and presuming he names a trio of nines, the big question looks like being whether Laidlaw is fit enough to be reconsidered. The former captain has yet to play since fracturing his ankle, but his leadership qualities are sure to see him included provided he does recover match fitness in time. Price will definitely be included, and if Laidlaw is in too, Townsend will then need to decide if Horne is ready to step up to Test level, or whether Pyrgos’s greater experience is more important.




So, not an easy time for Fowles and his team-mates, then, presuming that is indeed how Townsend is thinking.  But, with this Friday’s Challenge Cup match against Stade Francais still to come before the national squad is finalised, at least the Edinburgh players have one more chance to persuade the coach that they merit inclusion. And if anything is in their favour, it is surely the fact that they are playing in a meaningful game with a quarter-final at stake, whereas Glasgow, who travel to Leinster in the Champions Cup, have already been eliminated from that competition.

Fowles certainly thinks so, and believes that players in other positions as well as his own have staked a claim for a Scotland place thanks to their performances in the 1872 Cup. “A lot of lads have been going well for us,” the 24-year-old said. “You could see in the Glasgow games there was an extra edge and a lot of head-to-heads going on.

“All the lads and coaches know how big those games are towards selection for that Scotland team. I think we’ll get a lot of players in the Six Nations squad like we did in the autumn. Every week is a chance to put your hand up.”

It is always frustrating to an extent to be included in a squad and end up not playing, but Fowles still got a lot out of the autumn, especially thanks to the coaching from former Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair, now one of Townsend’s assistants. “That was really good,” Fowles said. “A lot of learning for me. That was the first time I’ve been in that environment.

“To meet the coaching staff and the other players was great and getting to work quite closely with Mike Blair was really helpful. He’s given me stuff to bring back to the club and work on to progress my game, which I’ve been trying to do these past few weeks. It was very positive for me.

“Obviously I didn’t get involved in the games in the autumn, but just in training and doing the little extras with Mike, specific advice he can give me which in day-to-day training I might not get. He’ll watch my game a lot more closely than an attack coach would.”

When it comes to being selected for Scotland, of course, getting to start for Edinburgh is the first battle to be won. Fowles does his best not to agonise over it, preferring to state his case for selection whenever he gets the chance to play.

“Selection is not in my control. I can only do what I can do when I get the opportunity to play. I think I’ve played quite well the past few weeks. I’ve just got to wait for the opportunities. It was nice to start on Friday and I thought I played well again.”

Stade Francais should be tougher than the Southern Kings were in that PRO14 game last week, even if their attitude thus far to the Challenge Cup has been at best lukewarm. Edinburgh, by contrast, have taken to the competition enthusiastically, and are set to go all-out to win that last-eight place on Friday.

“We’re just embracing every game we play at the moment, week to week trying to get better and get to where we want to be,” Fowles added. “If we win this week we’ll be in knockout European rugby, which is what we want. We want to try and win this competition and in the league we’re going all right.”

 

Friday’s match between Edinburgh and Stade Francais has been switched to BT Murrayfield to allow the pitch at Myreside more time to recover from the recent bad weather. Kick-off remains 7.35pm.

About Stuart Bathgate 1438 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.