AS remedies to a bout of the lurgy go, a call from the national team coach to say you’ve been called up to the Scotland squad for a World Cup campaign takes some beating. Just ask Henry Pyrgos, who arrived in Japan last Thursday after fellow scrum-half Ali Price picked up a foot injury during Scotland’s opening weekend defeat to Ireland, and is now set to play a key role in the team’s crucial pool match against Russia next Wednesday.
“I was in bed with the flu when I go the call,” explained the 30-year-old, “It was Gregor. He said Ali had picked up an injury and would I like to come out. I got the call on the Monday, I left on the Wednesday and arrived here on Thursday.
“When I got the call, I felt great … it just felt great … getting the chance to get back out with the squad to represent Scotland at the World Cup.”
Pyrgos had been part of the original training squad for the tournament but was cut eight days before the team’s first warm-up match away to France in mid August, meaning he spent six weeks out the loop before last week’s recall – but he says he has had no major problems fitting back not the squad.
There is now a very good chance he will start against Russia next Wednesday, if – as expected – Townsend chooses to rest his leading players for that match in order to keep the fit and fresh to face Japan four days later. At the very least, he will be names among the replacements.
“You work hard as a player and the World Cup comes around every four years and you are desperate to be involved,” said Pyrgos. “So, I was disappointed when I missed out, but I went back to Edinburgh and got my head down because we all know things can quickly change in sport – and now I find myself here.
“I feel sorry for Ali. It must have been hard to take. This was his first World Cup. But it is a good opportunity for me which I’m determined to grab with both hands.
“The biggest thing going back to my club was the different calls and systems and so on, but I have been here more than a week now so have had a chance to slot back into things. I have got my head in the right place.”
“It took me a wee while to get over the jetlag, but I have been out here before,” he added, when asked how he was acclimatising. “I went straight to the training ground on Thursday and the boys had a day off on the Friday which gave me a chance to settle in. I trained on the Saturday and felt right. It has been good.
Pyrgos’ first trip to Japan was for the U20 World Championship in 2009, when he – alongside Stuart McInally, Fraser Brown, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson and Peter Horne – was part of a Scotland team which finished ninth at the tournament, but did manage to beat the host nation 7-12 during the pool stage.
He then returned to the Land of the Rising Sun with the senior Scotland team in 2016 when he captained the side in the second of two Test matches, kicking three of the team’s seven penalties in a gritty 21-16 win in Tokyo.
“Japan were really good that day,” recalled Pyrgos. “They were fast, fit and moved the ball from side to side, and we were a little bit inaccurate at times. We respect Japan because they’re a quality team. We came over and got the win in the end, but we know from experience what a challenge it will be [in the final pool match].
“When I first came here with the Under-20s, it was big crowds, and then when I came with Scotland in 2016 it was loud again, so when that last pool games comes round I’m sure it will be a huge game. However, as the boys keep saying, we’ve got to deal with Russia first.”
Pyrgos has not worn the dark blue jersey since November 2017, with the emergence of Price and George Horne pushing him down the pecking order at both club (before his switch from Glasgow Warriors to Edinburgh in the summer of 2017) and international level.
“It’s a competitive position the one I’m in,” he shrugged. “I’ve just continued to train hard and work for selection, and if that comes brilliant, if it doesn’t it probably doesn’t change my mindset much. I’ll just keep giving it all for my club and working hard on the training pitch to make sure you are ready for the next opportunity.
“Moving to Edinburgh has been good for me,” he added. “I was at Glasgow a long time, enjoyed it and felt like I achieved quite a lot – but Edinburgh has been a new challenge and, although it was a bit of an up-and-down season last year, I have thoroughly enjoyed it so far. And I think my rugby has benefitted.”