YOU realise you are in conversation with a different sort of animal from the average teenage rugby nut when he uses the word ‘holistically’ during a conversation about his personal development.
Callum Hunter-Hill – six and a half feet tall, almost 16 and a half stone in weight and with a 1980s style white bandage wrapped around his head – looks and plays like the sort of second-row who will blindly put his body on the line first and ask questions later. But clearly there is more to this 19-year-old than meets the eye.
When the Scotland Under-20 squad to play Ireland at Broadwood Stadium on Friday night was announced this afternoon [Wednesday], he was a stick-on for the captain’s role – and not just because he is the second most experienced member of the squad (behind winger Robbie Nairn), with nine caps to his name at this level plus an appearance off the bench for Glasgow Warriors earlier in the season.
Hunter-Hill is a thoughtful and articulate character, who started reading Geography and Archaeology at Glasgow University but has deferred his studies to concentrate on rugby.
He began playing the game in the minis section at North Berwick rugby club whilst at Gullane Primary School in East Lothian. He moved to Stewart’s Melville College in Edinburgh after his first year of secondary school and was part of the team which lifted the Brewin Dolphin Shield in 2014.
He played his first season out of school at Stewart’s Melville RFC then spent the summer of 2015 in New Zealand on the Macphail Scholarship, training with the Canterbury RFU International High Performance Unit in Christchurch and playing for Christchurch Colts, before joining Stirling County for the 2015-16 season.
He is a natural leader and has already led his country at under-18 level; and, despite his youth, was given that same responsibility at Stirling County this season.
“I enjoy captaincy. When I was younger I felt I had to do everything myself, but that’s not what it’s about – its leading on the pitch, working hard off the pitch and being a good team leader,” he says.
Unfortunately for Stirling County, they have not seen much of their young leader during the last two months after the SRU decided to send him down to London Scottish on loan.
“It’s definitely improved my physicality. You’re playing against bigger guys week-in and week-out, so you have to be ready for it mentally and physically, and being part of a new team and getting used to new systems has been really good,” he says.
“It has broadened my rugby ability and beyond that, holistically, it has definitely broadened my personality,” he adds, before indicating that it might not have been all high culture and civilised dinner parties in the big smoke. “I was staying in a flat with seven other Scottish guys – including Tom Galbraith, Ali Miller, Hugh Fraser, Ewan McQuillin and George Turner – it was brilliant … great fun.”
Hunter-Hill is one of eight players in this week’s 23 man match-day squad with previous experience playing at this level. All of the front five have been here before, although loose-head prop George Thornton is the only member of the front-row to have started a game for the Under-20s, against Wales in the Junior World Cup in Manchester during the summer.
While all three members of the starting back-row are new to the set-up, there is plenty of firepower there, with 18-year-old open-side Matt Fagerson (younger brother of Zander) already having played five games for Glasgow Warriors this season, blindside Luke Crosbie a no-nonsense competitor who is a key man in the Currie set-up, and number eight Tom Dodd a member of the Worcester Warriors Senior Academy and training regularly with the first team squad. He is a former member of the English Counties Under-18 set-up who qualifies for Scotland through his mother Vanessa.
Head coach Sean Lineen is expecting a huge challenge upfront, but if his forwards can provide some decent possession he has a sprinkling of stardust out wide capable of causing some serious damage.
Left wing Ross McCann of Melrose is currently the top try scorer in the BT Premiership, right wing Nairn is a powerful runner who has been based with the Harlequins Academy since leaving George Watson’s College in the summer of 2015, and full-back Darcy Graham has the pace, agility and guts to rip any defence to shreds given half a chance.
Both centres – Cameron Hutchison of Currie and Craig Pringle of Stirling County – have impressed at club level this year; while Josh Henderson and Andrew Simmers are a couple of livewires at half-back, as is back-up scrum-half Charlie Shiel, who will be lurking with intent on the bench.
“A lot of those involved this week are new to the international stage, but they have the quality to compete and we have no doubt they will rise to the occasion. They have made a statement during the preparation camps and their hard work and effort has merited a spot in the side for Friday’s Championship opener,” said Lineen.
“Ireland are going to be physical and astute, and we’ll have to be at the top of our game to match them in all facets. However, we’re going to relish in the challenge and we look forward to doing so in front of our home support.”
Scotland U20 team to play Ireland U20 in the U20 Six Nations Championship at Broadwood Stadium this Friday 3rd February (kick-off 8.30pm) –
15. Darcy Graham (Hawick)
14. Robbie Nairn (Harlequins)
13. Craig Pringle (Stirling County)
12. Cameron Hutchison (Currie)
11. Ross McCann (Melrose)
10. Josh Henderson (Glasgow Hawks)
9. Andrew Simmers (Heriot’s)
1. George Thornton (Bishop Burton College)
2. Fraser Renwick (Hawick)
3. Adam Nicol (Stirling County)
4. Alex Craig (Gloucester)
5. Callum Hunter-Hill CAPTAIN (Stirling County)
6. Luke Crosbie (Currie)
7. Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Hawks)
8. Tom Dodd (Worcester Warriors)
16. Robbie Smith (Ayr)
17. Daniel Winning (Boroughmuir)
18. Fergus Bradbury (Stirling County)
19. Hamish Bain (Currie)
20. Jamie Ure (Boroughmuir)
21. Bruce Flockhart (Glasgow Hawks)
22. Charlie Shiel (Currie)
23. Stafford McDowall (Ayr)
Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group