The first new cap selected by Scotland in this Six Nations Championship has paid tribute to the leg-up received from Heriot’s on his journey to the international team for tonight’s Calcutta Cup clash against England at Murrayfield.
Flanker Chris Fusaro, 24, joined the Capital club in 2007 fresh from making history by playing in two trophy-winning teams at Murrayfield in the same season.
First, Fusaro represented Bell Baxter High, from Cupar, when they beat Dollar Academy to win the Bell Lawrie under-18 schools cup, and then he returned to the stadium when Howe of Fife overcame Musselburgh in the youth final.
“It was Colin Robertson, the Scotland under-18 coach, who recommended Heriot’s as a team that would suit my style when I came to study chemical engineering and management at Edinburgh University,” recalled Fusaro. “Adding to a really enjoyable experience was the fact that both coaches, Roddy Deans and Bob McKillop, had played in my position.”
McKillop recalled today: “I had no hesitation picking straight away for Heriot’s as a teenager. When he runs out at Murrayfield there will be a lump in my throat.
“If I have one regret it is that my time as a Scotland age-group coach didn’t coincide with Chris’s time at that level.
“I loved working with him. He arrived at Heriot’s with a good grounding from his first club, Howe of Fife. He has his feet firmly on the ground and has the ability possessed by all outstanding flankers to do his job without getting penalised. He knows instinctively just how far to push the offside law when winning ball on the ground.”
Since then, McKillop believes the 24-year-old has added ball-carrying abilities.
“What convinced me he was ready for internationals was seeing the way Chris performed for Glasgow against a big Toulon back row recently in the Heineken Cup,” he said.
“Under [Glasgow coach] Gregor Townsend, Chris has added to his repertoire of skills even against massive opposition. The try he scored against Toulon (diving over the top of a ruck at the cornerflag) showed, too, how much Chris understands the laws of the game. That is particularly important for someone playing on the edge like Chris.”
Fusaro recalls that Toulon encounter as a major stepping stone to his first cap.
“I didn’t even know if I had got the ball down to score against Toulon but I reckon that game and also getting a full 80 minutes against Exeter didn’t do me any harm,” he said.
“I’ve been working to expand my game a bit with Gregor Townsend encouraging me to get my hands on the ball more often.
“It was a big surprise to get the call-up and although I’ve played a lot with Ryan Wilson at Glasgow, packing down in the back row alongside Dave Denton will be a new experience but one I’m looking forward to. I’ve played against Dave a couple of times and now I’m glad to be playing alongside him.”
One of the inter-city games to feature Fusaro was the 2010 encounter at Firhill when he was sent off in the final minutes along with Scott Macleod after the pair had traded blows.
Similar aggression, properly channelled, from the son of a Fife bottle shop and ice cream parlour owner whose family arrived from Italy, would surely do Scotland’s chances no harm.
Meanwhile, Scotland coach Scott Johnson says of the newcomer who has displaced captain Kelly Brown: “Against England we are going to have to play low to the ground and we have got a ground-feeder.
“He (Fusaro) can do something a bit different. I need to find out if he can.
“We didn’t play Chris in the Autumn and asked him to work on a few things. His lines (of running) have changed. He is competitive across the ground. We are giving him a go.”
Displaying his Antipodean background, Johnson compared Fusaro to an Australian capped 79 times at open-side flanker.
“He reminds me a bit of an Aussie seven really,” said the coach. “I’ve coached a lot of good ones in my time and he reminds me a lot of Phil Waugh.
“He’s very hard on the ball, an explosive kid.
“It’s a gamble worth taking, a logical thought process. It might have been easier to go back to some players we’ve tried in the past but his form has warranted it.”