DUNCAN MUNN flew under the radar and right into the Boroughmuir Bears team to face Southern Knights last month, then shot down any doubts there might have been about his readiness for the step-up to Super6 by absorbing a ferocious tackle from opposition winger Billy Wara early in the match and diving straight back into the action without a moment’s hesitation.
“It was quite a harsh introduction to big boy rugby,” chuckles the 18-year-old. “The ribs were pretty sore for a few days after that, but at that point the adrenaline was going, and we only had two scrum-halves on the bench so I’d gone into the game with the mindset that I was going to be playing the full 80 which meant I just had to get myself up, dust myself off and get on with it.”
Like hundreds of young players the length and breadth of Scotland, Munn missed the entirety of his final year of under-18s rugby due to this damned pandemic, but the Balloch born-and-raised centre has shrugged that off and hardly missed a beat since the easing of restrictions during the summer.
He was added to the Bears Super6 squad as an injury replacement for second-row Ewan Stewart three weeks ago and has now played two full 80 minutes, in that gritty away loss to Southern Knights, and in a fine home win over Stirling County which served as a major morale-boost to the Meggetland men heading into last weekend’s mid-season break.
Munn has been a solid presence in the middle of the park for Graham Shiel’s side, displaying impressive composure and maturity given his age and lack of time in the saddle during the last 18-months. While there is understandably a lot of angst coursing through the Scottish game at the moment over the prospect of a lost generation, he has helped demonstrate that there can be a rugby life post-Covid for those in the 18 to 20-year-old bracket who want it.
“I was at Kelvinside Academy and then joined Cartha this summer, I wasn’t a stage three player or anything like that, so I suppose I was a bit under the radar,” he reflects.
“I started playing at Loch Lomond when I was four-years-old and I was there until I was under-16s,” Munn continues, when asked to fill in the blanks of his rugby journey so far. “It is my hometown club and I still go down to help coach the minis and stuff. My two wee brothers are still there and my dad coaches there as well, so that’s where it all started, and the connection is still strong.
“I got a scholarship to Kelvinside Academy at the end of S4 for my final two years at school and it was really good for me. I think I developed a lot during that period even if it was a bit weird in my second year with no rugby because of Covid.
“It became about trying to get as much out of it as I could considering the circumstances and I was very lucky because my coaches, Thomas Davidson and Davie Wilson, were really good at doing extras with me – mental stuff, one-to-one skills, analysing games and so on. That was really helpful at a time when there was not much rugby going on anywhere.”
After leaving Kelvinside this summer, Munn joined Cartha QP. “Thomas Davidson is the coach there as well, and I’ve got a really good relationship with him, so that was a big factor,” he explains.
“It is also one of the clubs closest to me. I still live in Balloch at Loch Lomond, so it is a 30-35 minute drive, and while I know they are not in the Premiership they are still playing at a pretty decent level in National One. I know a few of the guys there as well, so it just made sense as I tried to get back playing rugby again.”
Munn played in an inter-club match at Cartha and in a narrow loss to Premiership high-flyers Marr during pre-season and was looking forward to getting stuck into league action with the Drumbreck lads. However, a call from west Edinburgh turned that plan on its head.
“It wasn’t completely out of the blue,” he reveals. “Davie Wilson is also the defence coach with the Bears so he said to me at the end of last year that if I wanted to come through to Meggetland to train with the club and get that experience then it would be a good opportunity to experience that step-up. I also knew Graham Shiel through his time in the Glasgow academy when I was in my under-16 year.
“So, I was there once or twice a week from the start of July and played in a few pre-season friendlies for them, which was good exposure. Then I headed back to Cartha when the Super6 season started, but the injury to Ewan meant I was called up on the week of the Southern Knights game, and from there it all happened quite quickly.”
Stewart is a second-row so it was hardly a like-for-like switch, but each Super6 team is restricted to a 32-man squad, and Bears were facing an immediate crisis in midfield at that time due to the unavailability of Michael Gray, Greg Cannie, Ronan Kerr (all injured) and Robbie McCallum (training with Glasgow Warriors).
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“It is a big step-up,” Munn confirms. “You have to be switched on at all times because there are a lot of quality players there who can change the game in an instant. We’ve seen this season that one mistake can really cost a team, so that’s been the big thing for me: trying to be as error-free as possible when dealing with a level of physicality, speed, intensity and skill I haven’t experienced before.
“I think I did alright in that first game. We played really well as a team in that first half, it was really expansive and really good fun, but we struggled to keep it going in the second half. Then, against Stirling County, we really ground it out and everyone just really backed each other, so it was nice to get the result.”
Munn played a crucial role in the lead-up to Tom Brown’s decisive try in the County game, cutting open the opposition’s defence with a nicely weighted grubber.
“I don’t really know where that came from, to be honest,” he shrugs. “I think I saw that we had an advantage and that they were coming up quite hard, which was something we had spoken about during the week, so it was just kind of something a bit different, and it worked thankfully.”
“I don’t know if you saw the chip I tried to do to the wing in one of the first plays of the game? That didn’t go so well,” he replies, self-effacingly, when asked if those sorts Finn Russell-esque moments feature regularly in his game.
“I’m not really sure what I am. I’m obviously quite tall but I’m not the biggest guy in germs of weight. My running is alright, my passing is alright, and my kicking is the thing I probably do need to work on.”
An ‘all-rounder’ is the description a less modest individual would use.
With five regular season games and a play-off left in this Super6 campaign, Munn is now looking to get as many minutes as he can under his belt, and if he maintains the performance levels he has hit in the two games played so far then he should be in contention for Scotland’s Under-20s Six Nations campaign in the New Year.
“I looked at doing sports coaching at college or university before deciding there was too much uncertainty on how courses might run, so I’m taking a year to focus fully on rugby,” he says.
“I’ve got a part-time job working in Asda, I’m doing a bit of coaching with Thomas Davidson and his business – Onside Rugby Performance, who run kids rugby camps – and I’ve been back at Kelvinside coaching a bit of as well.
“I’m definitely trying to have a career in rugby. Playing professionally is the goal – playing for Scotland is the dream because you’ve got to aim as high as you can – but I know there is a lot of hard work ahead of me. I just want to see how far I can go.”