Bill Lothian: New faces have the X Factor

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This column would never lay claim to a sage mentality . . . but fortunately we do know a few rugby people who have their ear to the ground and over the past few years have kindly shared talent-spotting abilities for Evening News readers.

So, as a rich crop of young talent bursts on to the current Edinburgh professional scene, and in the case of David Denton, one cap, it proved irresistible to look back at when these tyros first came on the ‘News’ rugby radar and note the predictions made for individuals who have all worn Edinburgh colours either this season or last.

STUART McINALLY caught the eye going into a Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup Final and on January 25, 2008, Andrew Ker – coach of the Watson’s College side the player already known as “Rambo” captained – made an intriguing comparison with a former Scotland captain he had previously coached: “Stuart hits people like Jason White. Although currently playing No. 8 Stuart’s long-term future could be as a blindside flanker where he has the potential to be exceptional.

“He reads the game really well and rarely loses possession.

“He is very much his own man and if he decides to commit to rugby could go a long way.”

Later in 2008 (November 21) we began to be captivated by the mercurial skills of TOM BROWN as he stepped into senior rugby with Edinburgh Accies whose development officer, Iain Berthinussen, knows a thing or two about back play.

Said Iain: “Tom is one to watch out for. He’s got plenty of pace and bags of enthusiasm to make things happen.”

By the start of 2009 (February 26) MATT SCOTT, (pictured below) now in his first season with Edinburgh, was impressing consistently and former internationalist Graham Hogg, an assistant coach with Currie, said of the stand-off who has been successfully converted to centre: “He has the basic tenets of pace and ability to read the game and . . . he keeps looking to cross the gain-line. So far as kicking is concerned he is already receiving assistance from Duncan Hodge, the Scotland kicking coach.”

Having grown up in Africa DAVE DENTON decided to move to Scotland to take advantage of a parentage qualification and it wasn’t long before his talent was noted at Edinburgh Accies where fellow forward Ed Stuart told us on September 18, 2009: “Dave is a real athlete with plenty of potential.”

How true, for Denton won a debut cap at the beginning of this season in a World Cup warm up clash with Ireland.

Nobody has made faster progress, though, than HARRY LEONARD who leapt almost straight from the Boroughmuir side into Edinburgh action this season.

But long before that – October 22, 2010, in fact – ’Muir manager Ally McLean, a former pro with Edinburgh and Bedford, was recognising something special stirring in the ranks. “Harry is proving a really good ball player with a lovely sidestep. He is definitely an outstanding prospect.”

So who are the bright young things that might emulate these prize-guys in 2012?

Just this week Glasgow prop Ryan Grant was singing the praises of his full back colleague STUART HOGG who, after moving from Hawick, spent some time at Heriot’s en route to the professional ranks.

Said Grant of the young full back: “Hoggy is just a raw talent. His feet are unbelievable. His awareness of the game is unbelievable. With a bit of coaching he can be one of the best. He has a good work ethic and is not afraid to jump in with both feet.”

Currently sharing Heriot’s duties with a place in the Scotland sevens squad is teenage stand-off SAM HIDALGO-CLYNE for whom Scottish performance director Stevie Gemmell has high hopes having told us in July: “Sam has shown an awareness and an ability that I have not seen in many young players.

“For example, against Japan under-18s last season, play was going one way when Sam saw nothing was on. He stopped on a sixpence, put the ball on his left foot, and sent a crossfield kick which went into the winger’s hands in the far corner inside the opposition 22.

“To have the vision and confidence to do that, and just as important to have the skill to put the ball on a plate like that, speaks volumes.”

Staying with Heriot’s, FRASER BROWN, a former Scotland under-20 hooker, has reinvented himself as a flanker in looking to put a string of injuries behind him.

So much so that backs coach Mark Appleson believes the pro ranks could be within reach for a second time, saying: “It’s Fraser’s professionalism that is taking him into try scoring positions. He works incredibly hard at training and, as a leader, the guys follow him.

“He has forced colleagues to work harder and harder and for the past six weeks we’ve had a full complement at training.

“I knew he could do the job at flanker and it’s not going to be long before a professional team picks him up.”

Another player to make a switch is Watsonians’ CHRIS SCOTT, who has moved from prop to flanker where forwards coach Stu Reid, the former Scotland No. 8, has high hopes, telling us: “At 18, I have already made Chris Watsonians captain for a few games. His knowledge is such he has the respect of all team-mates.”

Finally, Stewart’s Melville hooker GEORGE TURNER is set to reap the benefits of a summer scholarship to New Zealand with club coach Bruce Macnaughton remarking this year: “George has grunt, needle, call it what you want; above all he really wants to succeed.”

Will messrs Grant, Gemmell, Appleson, Reid and Macnaughton prove as visionary as messrs Ker, Berthinussen, Hogg, Stuart and McLean? It is going to be fascinating . . .

Put the fans first over TV

My sporting wish for 2012 is that a governing body will finally pluck up the courage to reject the demands of television that ride roughshod over the interests of paying fans.

Less than a month before Edinburgh head off to Paris for a potentially crucial Heineken European Cup clash at Racing Metro and we still didn’t know whether the tie was to be played on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday during the second weekend of January.

Maybe the journey back from the 5.35pm New Year’s night kick-off against Glasgow (provided no public transport is needed) will mean an opportunity to plan the Paris excursion. Don’t blame the television companies for pushing their interests – it’s the sporting authorities who need to learn to say “no” and negotiate with greater regard for those who turn up on the day.

Own goal

A COUPLE of years ago, I watched in amazement as a Scottish Premiership cricket umpire took charge of a match in which his son was one of the leading bowlers.

The decision left both men in a position where any decision could have been misconstrued and it should have been avoided on grounds of common-sense alone.

Now rugby seems oblivious to leaving its officials in an individious position because an English official has just taken charge of Currie’s British and Irish Cup tie with Nottingham.

All the blazers do in that situation is give the one-eyed observer extra ammunition for want of a bit of planning.