GRANT STEWART, who became the 1,106th man to wear a Scotland jersey in a cap international when he came off the bench with 16 minutes to go of Saturday’s World Cup warm-up victory over France at Murrayfield, is a member of a dying breed.
He is a professional rugby player at the top level who knows what life is like in the real world.
Having come through the ranks at his hometown club of Strathaven, before moving on to Dalziel, he represented Scotland at Under-17 and Under-18 level but didn’t make the cut when he moved on to the all-important Under-20 stage. So, instead of linking up with the SRU’s academy programme to spend his days pushing metal in a gym, he found himself on an industrial yard lugging freight and increasingly doubtful that he would ever get a shot at the big time.
“I’ve been with three clubs and had different coaches, so it’s been a bit of journey, but I’ve got there,” said the 24-year-old after the match. “I started with Strathaven, then I stalled a bit at Dalziel, and that’s when I moved to Hawks, but I didn’t really kick off there [straight away]. I was 21 when it started to get going.
“I was working for my mum’s family’s haulage company. Loading lorries – I don’t have an HGV licence – and the year before Fin Gillies took over as Hawks coach I was kind of thinking I might move and play for another team a few leagues below, but he convinced me to stay.
“I would still have been working for the haulage company in Carluke. Playing for Scotland was always what I wanted to do, I thought I might not get there, but it’s always what I wanted. Fin Gillies is definitely one of the biggest influences on my career.”
Stewart went from a 2nd XV player to 1st XV stalwart under Gillies, picking up an academy contract along the way, which was upgraded last Christmas to a full-time deal with Glasgow Warriors.
He ended up coming on for the injured Sam Skinner on Saturday, which is hardly a like for like replacement, although the hooker is surprisingly quick on his feet and does have experience of playing in the back-row as emergency cover during his time at Hawks. In the end, he slotted in to his usual position between the props with George Turner dropping back to flanker.
“Their front-rows are big boys, so it was different – the first five minutes felt the longest I’d ever played, I was ballooned – but it was good,” he reflected.
“We have wee notes above our jerseys in the changing room [before kick-off], and Fraser Brown had left me a typed up wee note in a frame. It said just ‘relax and enjoy’. After the first five minutes I did manage to.”
Although his first line-out did not go to hand, Stewart recovered his composure to nail the next three as Scotland saw out the win, and he is now focussed on getting more game time against Georgia next Saturday with the hope of pushing himself into the World Cup squad, which is named the following Tuesday.
In terms of experience, he is well behind Stuart McInally, Brown and Turner, but Brown is still recovering from a toe injury (although he is confident of being fit again in time for Japan) while Turner had a difficult afternoon at line-out time on Saturday, so there is an outside chance of Stewart upsetting the established pecking order.
“I’m not too sure,” he shrugged when the possibility of making Japan was put to him. “I thought I played well today and hopefully will get a chance next weekend. I’ll take as much as I can and give 100 per cent.
“It would be an absolute dream come true to go to a World Cup with Scotland.”