THERE wasn’t really much of a decision to make. When a two-year contract extension to his current deal (which isn’t due to run out until next summer) was waved under his nose, Stafford McDowall showed the razor-sharp instincts which have made him one of the most exciting young players in Scottish rugby to grab hold of the sheet of paper and scribble his moniker along the dotted line.
“As soon as the offer came, I just snatched upon it,” confirmed the 21-year-old. “I’m really enjoying my time here so any opportunity to extend my stay was an easy one. At this point in my career, the fact I can stay at a club where I can learn from other international players around me was a real big selling point for me.
“I managed to get a bit of game-time last year and, with the World Cup coming, it was always an ambition to get a bit more game-time this year. Even when those boys come back from the World Cup, some of them may get rested, and some of them may play a bit and then go away for the Six Nations again. So, I just really need to put my head down and make the most of every opportunity I get.”
McDowall is clearly delighted to have tied up the next three years of his life, and it is a great bit of business for Warriors, too.
As assistant coach Jason O’Halloran pointed out when welcoming news of the deal, McDowall is a player with ‘a very exciting future ahead of him’. Although, in fairness, it doesn’t take a rugby expert to point that out.
The centre from Dumfries – who learned the game at Stewartry RFC, before moving on to Merchiston Castle School then taking his first steps into senior rugby with Ayr in the Tennents Premiership – is mouth-watering a combination of bulk [6ft 4ins and 103kgs], pace [he played in the back-three at age-grade level], rugby intelligence, determination, composure and good old-fashioned common sense.
When everyone is fit and available, he is going to have an almighty battle on his hands to get the game-time in midfield he desires, with Pete Horne, Sam Johnson, Huw Jones, Nick Grigg and Kyle Steyn all involved in Scotland’s World Cup training squad this summer, while Paddy Kelly also looking to break his way into the team.
The competition was so hot that Alex Dunbar disappeared off to Newcastle Falcons on loan midway through last season in order to get some game time (he is now at Brive in France), but McDowall clearly relishes the challenge of taking on such esteemed rivals in the battle for a match-day jersey.
“There’s a lot of young centres here, even with international boys away, who are looking for game time,” he pointed out. “But nothing is given at this club, we know the coaches will pick on form and not a name, so it is a great environment to be in.”
Warriors will crank up their preparation for 2019-20 campaign when they play the first leg of a double-header against Ulster at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast a week on Saturday, with tickets still available for the return leg at Scotstoun seven days later.
“I think all the boys are [itching for a game],” said McDowall. “We’re starting to ramp up the level of contact in training now, so I think everyone’s just raring to go and get the jersey back on.
“There’s a bit more niggle, especially when the contact stuff comes in. The boys would be rather tackling people from other teams than tackling each other but it’s been good. We’re in a good place but we’ll see where we are next week.”
Glasgow suffer more than most when it comes to international call-ups, but they now have a depth to the squad that means results have tended to improve during these periods when the hot-shots are away. With that in mind, the timing of this World Cup might be regarded as ideal because it means Dave Rennie and his coaching team have been able to work all summer with the players they know will be available at the start of the season, rather than drip-feeding players back in once they return from tour, only to remove them again when the Autumn Tests come around.
“I think we dropped one point during the November window and not very many during the Six Nations period last year, so, as a group – as a team – we’ve got confidence in ourselves that we can get the job done when the internationals are away,” said McDowall.
“We’re going to go to South Africa in the first round of the [PRO14] competition to play a Cheetahs team that has probably not lost anybody to the Springboks, at altitude as well, so that’ll be a good marker for us. If we can go there and get a result it’ll stand us in good stead for the season.”