ALI ROGERS has turned out in a number of team hues in recent months, but the only colour he is focused on wearing now is the dark blue of Scotland at under-20 level.
The 19-year-old loose-head prop has his sights set on playing a major role in an important 2023 for the age-grade national side which gets underway with the Six Nations opener away to England at The Stoop on February 3rd.
That tournament will then be followed by the World Rugby Trophy as the young Scots look to bounce back from nine defeats from nine at that level during this calendar year, and earn promotion back into the top tier World Championship for the following year’s cohort.
In this season to date, Rogers has played for the Ayrshire Bulls in the Super6 Championship and was loaned out to the Southern Knights, Heriot’s and Stirling Wolves in the same competition to get as much game time as possible.
In recent weeks he has also been involved with Marr in the Premiership with the Troon outfit managing three wins from three over that period.
Earlier this week he was part of a Scotland under-20s wider training squad camp and the preparations for 2023 continue this weekend with a hit-out against Edinburgh Rugby ‘A’, meaning, for now, international rugby is his main focus.
“The under-20s season in 2021-22 was tough for us all and a big learning curve, but I loved every minute of playing for my country and hopefully I will get the chance to do so again soon,” said Rogers, who was involved in the 2022 age-grade Six Nations and the Summer Series in Italy a few months later and has earned seven caps to date.
“A lot of us were coming into the set-up last year having not played a lot of senior rugby because of the pandemic, but throughout 2022 we have gained experience from the international games and from playing at various clubs.
“Quite a few guys from last year are eligible to play again this year while head coach Kenny Murray has been in post a lot longer now and there is a great structure around things and real competition for places which will keep the standards high.”
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As he mentioned, a lot of players the same age as Rogers missed the end of their S5 school year in terms of rugby and the whole of S6 meaning that they headed into senior rugby in 2021-22 after 18 months of no competitive action.
“At that time, I was set to play senior rugby with my local club Cumnock, but being part of the [Scottish Rugby] academy set-up they wanted me to play at a higher level,” he explained. “I went along to Glasgow Hawks for 2021-22 and being in my teens it was quite nerve wracking at first, but the coaches led by Andy Hill and all of the players there made me feel really welcome.
“Testing myself in the Premiership against more experienced props was good for my development as was working with Hawks’ own experienced prop Gary Strain because he really helped me with my game, I can’t thank him enough for that.
“I then joined the Bulls towards the end of that season for the Sprint Series competition and at the time the head coach there was Pete Horne. He was great with me, as were all the Bulls guys, and I was there until I went to the Summer Series with the under-20s.
“When I came back to the club, the Super6 Championship was just getting going and Andrew Nimmo and William Farquhar were playing really well for the team in my position, so I had to be patient, but Pat MacArthur [who had replaced Horne as head coach] was great with me and was always talking to me and encouraging me.
“Game time came in the match that we played against Glasgow in Inverness and it was brilliant to test myself against full-time pros there. I’d liked to have played more with the Bulls in the Championship, but they helped me get games with the Knights, Heriot’s and Stirling and I just wanted minutes under my belt and did my best when called upon.”
More minutes came the stage two academy player’s way via the Super6 Premiership player pool in November. He started at loose-head in Marr victories over Edinburgh Accies and Heriot’s Blues twice, and he had an experienced front-row man behind him in every scrum.
“Gordy Reid has been there and done it at the highest level as a loose-head, so to have him behind me playing second-row for Marr has been excellent,” Rogers said about his recent team-mate, the ex-Scotland cap
“He has helped me with my scrummaging technique and I really enjoyed my few weeks with him and the rest of the Marr lads. I fully believe they can keep the good run going and push on for the play-off places now.”
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Having been involved in judo as a youngster, it was not until the Mauchline-raised Ayrshire lad went to Auchinleck Academy that he was exposed to the sport.
“Teacher Stephen Raby who was there had set up a School of Rugby and he was really enthusiastic, so in S1 me and a few mates gave it a go and never looked back,” stated Rogers, who now balances rugby with being a second year student at Strathclyde University studying sport and physical activity.
“I just loved the team aspect of it and for the next few years I was playing for the school and the Cumnock club until the pandemic.
“In that time, I also started to get involved with representative rugby for Glasgow and The West and [in 2018] I was luck enough to captain a CashBack Schools of Rugby under-16 squad who went to Nagasaki, Japan on tour.
“There were boys in the squad from all over the country and it was a brilliant trip on and off the pitch.
“I also went with one of the Scotland under-16 squads to Wales and I really have to thank Stephen Raby and the other coaches who got me into the game in those early years.”