THE Edinburgh back row may have attracted the wrong sort of publicity this season, given the misdemeanours of Magnus Bradbury and John Hardie. But there is also a good-news story in there too, which, although not so attention-grabbing, should be of far greater significance in the medium to long term.
The story in question is the rise of Luke Crosbie, the 20-year-old flanker who arrived in the summer expecting he would need to wait before even getting to train with the first team. Instead, he has shown such a commitment to hard work, mixed with more than a little natural talent, that he has already played seven times for Richard Cockerill’s side.
Although he expects to settle down as a blindside, the 6ft 5in forward began rugby life as a lock, and is also fast enough to play at openside too. That versatility may be one reason why Cockerill has called on him ahead of expectations, but perhaps the primary reason is the speed with which he has made the transition from club rugby with Currie to the full-time demands of the professional game.
“There’s quite a big jump in the speed and the detail that you need to know, because with the club you’re only training twice a week, whereas professional it’s almost every day,” Crosbie explained. “I’ve got up to speed with all the positioning and all the detail you need to know at set piece – just the wee tricks of the trade that I’m learning off all the older boys in my position.
“I think it was quite a big jump from the speed perspective. You’re playing against guys that have international caps.
“I think I’ve always dealt with the physical aspect well. I always want to make tackles and carry hard, but for me most of my learning came from my positioning and game analysis, just learning more in the professional environment. I’ve progressed well and got up to speed to allow me to challenge others in my position. It’s been good.”
In the few short months in which Crosbie has been an Edinburgh player, he has perhaps gone through three distinct phases in terms of his attitude to being involved this season. At first there was the presumption that he would have to wait far longer than he has done to make his debut. Then there was the realisation that he was holding his own at training and could compete on equal terms with colleagues who were first-team regulars. And finally, once he did make his first appearance, there was validation: he did not just think he would be able to cut it at that level, he now had proof that he could.
“It has been really quick, like,” he said. “Looking back now, I’ve got seven caps at a pro level, while when I came back from the under-20s in the summer I thought it was going to take me a while to even get in training with the pro team.
“Coming in and getting my first cap – ever since then I’ve just kept working hard, and the way Cockers works is if you work hard and you play well then you get to play. From a young boy or an academy perspective that’s exactly the type of coach you want. It doesn’t matter who you are or how how many caps you’ve got to your name, if you work hard then you’ll get your chance.
“I’m delighted with how many caps I’ve actually got now. If you’d asked me if I’d even have one cap by now I would have said no chance.
“When you’re training you’re like ‘Oh, I might have a crack here’, but you don’t really know what it’s like in a game. For me, I was training for a few weeks doing the pre-season stuff, but I knew that the intensity jumps in a game. So I was curious to give it a crack, and I wondered if there was going to be a massive jump in physicality from the club game or the under-20s championship.
“But getting that first cap against Zebre was just a realisation that – I got a couple of carries and a few tackles, and that gave me the confidence that I could really kick on and push myself into the team. That’s what has happened.”
While Crosbie appears to have the ideal attitude for making rapid progress, he does not pretend that his success has been down to himself alone. Instead, he emphasises the importance of the environment at Edinburgh, where he says all his colleagues have helped him fit in.
“To be honest, everyone has been helpful in the team. Coming from the Academy you’re a bit worried thinking ‘where do you sit in the changing room?’. You don’t want to annoy anyone like that.
“But everyone’s been welcoming. I feel like I can talk to anyone. I remember in the pre-season camp in St Andrews sitting there with Ross Ford and he was telling me stuff that a back row should know, because he knows the game inside out. That was quite a big thing for me: you can learn from anyone in this environment, because they’ve played that much. I’m just trying to grasp it all at the moment, and just put it on the pitch.”
He also continues to learn from Currie Chieftains head coach Ben Cairns, who was himself an Edinburgh player as well as representing Scotland – something which Crosbie should emulate in a couple of seasons provided he continues his progress. “He’s helped me quite a bit. At club level he’s given me quite a bit of confidence working on skills and stuff, and he’s always been supportive of me being away training with Edinburgh. Instead of being like ‘We need you for the club game’, if I’ve said I’m the 24th man he’s always said ‘That’s good’.
“He has always supported me in my rugby career. I gave him a couple of calls now and again when it came to my first time in the pro environment and he gave me advice, because obviously he’s got loads of caps for Edinburgh.”