Stafford McDowall sets his sights on regular start with Glasgow

Warriors set to confirm the signing of South African teenager Connor de Bruyn later this year

Stafford McDowall
Stafford McDowall in action for Glasgow against Connacht last year. The teams meet again in Galway on Saturday. Image: ©INPHO/Craig Watson.

THREE years on from his Glasgow debut, and two since he signed his first professional contract with the Warriors, it is time for Stafford McDowall to come into his own. Past time, some might say, including the former Scotland Under-20s captain himself.

McDowall certainly had his frustrating moments last season, struggling to put a run of games together – he has still only made 21 competitive appearances for the team. But, while he would not hold that lack of opportunity against former coach Dave Rennie, the 22-year-old appears hopeful of getting a fairer crack of the whip under Danny Wilson.

As the season starts, McDowall, primarily an inside centre, might be seen as an understudy to Sam Johnson. But with six Scotland games before Christmas and five more after the turn of the year, the likely absence of Johnson and a dozen or so more internationals should provide far more game time for McDowall among many others. 

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The former Ayr player can slot in comfortably at 13 too, and with Huw Jones expected to be primarily a full-back, that versatility may well be called on. Indeed, having himself played at 15 on occasion, he will be perfectly willing to do that too. Above all, however, McDowall sees this coming campaign as a big chance to establish himself as the recognised inhabitant of the No 12 jersey.

“Yeah, definitely, I think this is a big season,” he said. “With the internationals going away there’s going to be a big chance to play and get some more minutes under my belt. Last season was frustrating at times not to get more game time, but it’s just the way the game goes. I’m fully focused on this season and getting some more minutes under my belt.

“Momentum is massive. I felt two years ago when I got a run of games and got a bit of momentum –  you feel more comfortable on the pitch and those decisions become a lot easier and everything flows for you. Whereas say you’re out for three weeks then in for one week, you’re jumping in cold into a professional game of rugby: it’s never going to be easy. You feel like you’ve got one chance to impress before you’re back out. So getting a run of games and some momentum would be good.

“I’m primarily an inside centre, that’s where I’ve played the majority of my rugby for Glasgow – I’ve played two or three times at outside centre, but the rest have started at inside, with maybe moving to outside later in the game.

“I’m happy to play either 12 or 13, but I prefer 12 because I feel my distribution comes in more there, and that I’m able to release players on the outside. I feel that’s where my strength is. So if I had to choose I’d choose 12.”

While his creativity in attack is one of his major attributes as a 12, McDowall acknowledges that other elements of his game need to be strengthened. “It’s been good for me that [assistant coach] Kelly Brown has come in, because being physical at the contact area in terms of the ruck is one of my biggest work-ons. 

“I’ve been working with Kelly to try and get more physicality in there. Under Dave [Rennie] the feedback I got was that I needed to work on that area, so if I can improve that area of my game I’ll have a lot better chance of getting selected.”

The feedback the outside world has got from several former Glasgow players since Rennie left was that the coach lacked interest in anyone who was not in that week’s matchday squad. By contrast, McDowall is grateful to the New Zealander –  who was a centre himself –  for always providing useful advice.

“I’ve got a lot to thank Dave for. As a young player he’ll always be the first coach that gave me a chance to break through. I always felt I had a good relationship with him. 

“It was always easy to talk to him and I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about him personally. As a young player when he was here, maybe I didn’t have the same expectations of game time as some other players, but he’ll always be the coach who gave me my break so I’ve got a lot to thank him for.”

Meanwhile, Glasgow are set to confirm the signing of South African teenager Connor de Bruyn later this year. The centre was pictured on social media yesterday (Thursday) wearing an old Warriors jersey, and was congratulated both by his agents and his fellow-centre Jordan Venter, who is joining Edinburgh. As De Bruyn will be an academy player and is not expected to figure in the first team for some time, Scotstoun officials plan to make his arrival a low-key one.

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About Stuart Bathgate 1393 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.