HIS ability in the air may be one of Harry Paterson’s strong points, but when it comes to assessing his own progress to date, the Edinburgh full-back’s feet remain firmly on the ground.
The 22-year-old has clearly made rapid progress this season, and on Tuesday was called up to the senior Scotland squad for the first time. Given he has still only played a handful of games for Edinburgh, this obviously suggests that Paterson, a former Scotland international at under-18 and under-20 level, has a very bright future ahead of him.
But the man himself, speaking at a Hive Stadium press conference the day before being named in Gregor Townsend’s 39-man squad for the Six Nations, said he was only “fairly happy” with his performances this season and insisted he has a lot to learn. As for what he has learned already, he credited much of that to the world-class players he has around them in Edinburgh’s back three such as Scotland colleagues Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe and Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli.
“I’ve been fairly happy with my performances, but I’m still very inexperienced in a lot of ways, and I’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “There are always going to be little things I can improve on.
“For example, in the Gloucester game [last Saturday] we didn’t win the aerial battle. It’s on me as the catcher of high balls, but also on the guys around me to help as well. So it’s a whole team thing, but I need to be a bit better in the air, which is something I consider a strength of mine, so I was a wee bit let down at the weekend that that wasn’t up to scratch from me.”
Paterson, who can also play on the wing, made his pro-team breakthrough in last season’s 1872 Cup against Glasgow. For much of 2023 he struggled to shake off a series of injuries, but he made a big impact on his return in Edinburgh’s URC victory over Ulster in Belfast – arguably their best performance of the season so far.
No matter how impressively he plays, Paterson knows that, for the time being at least, he will be overshadowed by the better-known names in the back three. But he sees his famous team-mates less as competitors than exemplars, experienced hands who can help accelerate his progress.
“It’s unbelievable how lucky we are to have that back three,” he said. “Even with Blair Kinghorn gone now it’s still stacked. There is a slight language barrier with Boffelli, but he’s a great guy and always keen to discuss things with me. So I learn a lot from Boff, especially in the air.”
Paterson, like the rest of the squad, is also learning a lot from Everitt’s implementation of a more structured game play. “Sean gives us a set plan on how we want to play and the areas we want to play in,” he explained. “The big thing last season was about over-playing in the wrong areas and how that cost us, so we’re just trying to execute that plan.
“But he also encourages us that if we have momentum and the space is there, that is the over-riding factor. If the space is there and the momentum is there, then we go there. It’s just about being smart in certain places. You have the freedom.”
For his part, Everitt has been impressed by the speed with which Paterson has fitted in to the team. “He’s done extremely well,” the coach said. “When I arrived I heard a lot about Harry, because he had played the two Glasgow games last year. He opened up a few eyes with his performances there, and I had a look at them as well. So he’s a guy with potential.
“Then he got on the field, and you can see he’s full of rugby. Every time he has put the jersey on this year he’s done exceptionally well. He was pretty much outstanding in the Ulster game away, and then on the weekend he had some really strong carries on the wing.
“He’s good under the high ball and he’s got a good kicking game. He’s a valuable player to us in a team where we’ve got a talented back three, and I’m sure he’s learning a lot from the international experience that we have there.”