Glasgow Warriors reward breakthrough star Stafford McDowall with first pro deal

The 20-year-old has been dependability personified so far, with maturity way beyond his tender years and is now rewarded

Stafford McDowall
Stafford McDowall's duties for Glasgow Warriors this season have included being a makeshift blindside in this game against Scarlets. Image: ©INPHO/Craig Watson.

IF you were looking for some prime examples of the “amazing depth” in the Glasgow Warriors squad that Tommy Seymour talked about earlier this week, the best place to start would probably be the centres. And as if Pete Horne, Nick Grigg, Alex Dunbar, Huw Jones and Sam Johnson were not enough, this season has also seen the emergence of Stafford McDowall, who has just signed his first professional contract.

You expect signs of naivety from young and inexperienced players, but 20-year-old McDowall has been dependability personified so far. He knows he is not a first choice for Dave Rennie’s side just yet, but his displays to date have shown the head coach that he is a lot more than just a player to be used when the internationals are away, and the offer of a contract that ties him to Scotstoun until 2021 is proof of just how highly he is rated.

Don’t be surprised if he has earned himself a starting opportunity against Lyon in Saturday’s crucial Champions Cup clash against Lyon at Scotstoun.

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“Stafford’s been training with us a year and a half now,” Rennie said of the youngster who cut his teeth in senior rugby with Ayr after leaving Merchiston Castle School, and who captained Scotland Under-20s in last season’s World Championship. “He got limited opportunities with us last year but impressed us with his skill set and work ethic, and has earned the opportunities he’s got this season.

“He’s a big man with the ability to carry through contact, he’s incredibly fit, and his distribution and kicking skills are also of real quality. He really impressed us during the international window: he looked really comfortable in the jersey and was never overawed by the opposition. We think he’s got a big future ahead of him.”

Sooner or later, that big future will include playing for the full Scotland side, but for the time being McDowall simply wants to concentrate on becoming more firmly established in the Warriors squad. “It’s a dream come true – being a professional rugby player is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “The last two months have gone by pretty quickly and I didn’t expect to get the run of games I got, but I’ve really enjoyed it, especially playing at Scotstoun. My goal now is to get as much game time as possible, add consistency to my performances and learn as much as I can from the coaches and my team-mates.”

Turner expects more from Warriors

McDowall has been something akin to an overnight sensation at professional level, breaking through well ahead of schedule. George Turner, on the other hand, had to endure several seasons of barely getting a game at Edinburgh before making the move to Glasgow, but the hooker too is now another example of how the squad has grown under Rennie. He showed as much in the win over Champions Cup Lyon last weekend, when he came off the bench to replace the injured Fraser Brown in the first quarter of an hour, and ended up getting the man-of-the-match award in the 42-22 victory.

The Warriors had every reason to be satisfied with such a comprehensive result in France, but the self-satisfaction has been replaced this week by a spirit of self-criticism, with the players focusing on the things that went wrong against Lyon – and on the need to rectify them against the same opponents at Scotstoun on Saturday.

“It definitely bodes well that after those kinds of performances we’re not entirely happy,” Turner said. “It’s always been great to win away, but we know we can do better. We ran the structure well and we played our shape, but there were times when we kicked the ball away when it was maybe on to run. Hopefully we’ll have more chances and we’ll take them this weekend.”

“There were a lot of mistakes – a few turnovers and a lot of penalties. Our discipline is going to be really important. And even though we scored a few tries, we left a few out there, so we want to work on our accuracy.”

Scoring more tries this weekend than the five they managed on Saturday will be a tall order, but cutting down on the penalty count is definitely achievable, and is being seen as a priority. “We talked about it in the team meeting,” Turner continued. “We showed a few that were semi-penalties – I did one in the side of the maul.

“They came in batches as well: when we were struggling we did two or three in a row. I don’t know, maybe it was with new players coming in and being a bit frustrated. They were a good team and stressed us at times, but we’ll look to shore that up next time.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1412 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.