Over the past year the flower of Scottish rugby is beginning to come back into bloom.
Last season Glasgow Warriors became the first Scottish side to win the Guinness PRO12, then Scotland were agonizingly close to a Rugby World Cup semifinal place with their last gasp defeat to Australia.
Last weekend in the penultimate Round of the RBS 6 Nations, the Scots broke a decade long hoodoo by beating France at BT Murrayfield.
Their compatriots at Under 20s level had made history of their own by beating “The Auld Enemy” England in the tournament’s opening Round for the 1st time since the inception of the Under 20s Six Nations Championship.
Leading the charge of this new generation of young Scots is Under 20s captain and lock Scott Cummings, who due to commitments with his club side Glasgow Warriors will not be playing against Ireland in the final Round of competition after guiding his side to 2 wins.
However, Cummings’ contribution to Scotland’s Under 20s and the experience he has gained playing in the Guinness PRO12 reflects the current renaissance in Scottish rugby.
The 19 year-old shows a confident yet grounded nature as he describes the win over England at Broadwood Stadium in Cumbernauld, a satellite town of Glasgow, without getting overly excited: “The game was really tough and I think we were really fired up with it being a home game and it being against England, it was a game we really thought where we could have a great game.”
Cummings continues to expound on the advantage of having players who had experience of playing at international Under 20s level from both last year’s Six Nations and the World Under 20 Championship: “Going into it the team were really confident, we had a lot of experienced players from the year before. I think that helped us out, knowing we were going to be a very good squad this year.
“It gave us a lot of confidence that we were able to put a good win over England. It was a very good contest and it taught us a lot about what was to come for the rest of the competition.”
Despite the bright start, the young Scots would encounter a few pot holes on their 2016 Under 20s Six Nations journey as they fell to a powerful Welsh side, they recovered with an away victory over Italy but fell to Les Bleuets back at Broadwood Stadium. They will be hoping to finish on a high against the Irish in Donnybrook this Friday with fullback Tom Galbraith assuming the captaincy role.
During the Rugby World Cup window at the start of the season, Cummings was given the opportunity to make a strong start to his professional career with Glasgow Warriors playing in PRO12 fixtures and in January he made his European Champions Cup debut against Racing 92.
Cummings again demonstrates his down to earth nature, as he describes this important phase in the development of his rugby career, “Playing the professional game was something I was aiming for this year but it wasn’t something I expected to happen as quick as it did.
Glasgow Warriors debut:
“Coming off the back of last year’s Junior World Cup, I played in 2 pre-season games for Glasgow Warriors but I never expected to be picked in that 1st game for Glasgow. Then the 1st 5 games of the season, I started them all, it was a big honour for me. I didn’t expect that at the start of the season. It is something I am quite proud of now.”
For those of us looking from the outside what is the difference between playing at Under 20s Test level and professional club rugby?
Cummings gives an honest and in-depth insight into these 2 rugby worlds, “There is a difference in some ways and then in other ways there isn’t, the physicality there in the Under 20s games is nearly the same as that of the pro game. In the professional games, I would say everything happens just that slightly bit quicker. Every decision you have got to make, you have got to make just that wee bit quicker because there is so much pressure on, so it is a lot more to do with decision-making and your technical ability.
“The guys we play at 20s level, a lot of them have played in the professional game, they are big enough and strong enough and all that but I think in the pro game technically everyone is very, very good and it is that technical ability, that is just the step up.”
An interesting twist to Cummings’ rugby story is that his working relationship with his Scotland Under 20 fellow lock Andrew Davidson goes back to their school days at Kelvinside Academy in Glasgow’s west end.
One of Scottish rugby’s most acclaimed stars of recent years, British and Irish Lion Richie Gray, is also a graduate of Kelvinside Academy. However, due to an age gap of close to 7 years, Cummings recollections are somewhat vague of his fellow lock, “Richie Gray went to Kelvinside, he was about 6 or 7 years above me, I just remember him as the really tall guy that was in our school!”
Another aspect to Cummings’ background is that he achieved a black belt in taekwondo in his mid-teens. He also began to study mathematics at the University of Strathclyde. However, he decided to defer these studies to focus on his rugby career.
Yet it is clear, his mathematical and analytical mind has been an asset when it comes to lineout time, a vital part of any lock’s game: “I would say it helps a wee bit for the lineouts, doing the analysis is something I quite like, I quite like analysing another team and thinking about other strategies of how I can pick off another team how I can defend their lineout, how we can beat them etcetera.”
Cummings has called lineouts for Glasgow Warriors and credits the now retired Scotland and Warriors lock Alastair Kellock in giving important advice on the psychological aspects of the game in general and lineout: “Having Al Kellock at Glasgow, one thing he always said was ‘if you are worried, just back yourself and the more confident you are the more confident everyone else will be’. I think with that experience I gained in the 1st 5 weeks of the season, I gained confidence.”
A feel-good factor has grown around Scottish rugby since Glasgow Warriors’ success in the 2014 / 2015 season that although not part of the senior team then, spurs on Cummings: “I think then with them going on to win the PRO12 final and being around the team, when that stuff was happening it was fantastic. It just sort of made me want to be in that position in a couple of years time.”
Scotland Under 20s Footage: