Chris Cusiter admits he is in a dogfight to extend his international career being one of five players to have been capped by Scotland at scrum half in the past year.
The one-time Boroughmuir star, now with Sale Sharks, could on Saturday jump to joint tenth in Scotland’s most capped list having been added to the squad for the RBS Six Nations clash with Italy at BT Murrayfield.
But after that? In an encouraging sign for Scotland’s talent pool other options now include Greig Laidlaw, Henry Pyrgos, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Grayson Hart, as well as 32-year-old Cusiter.
Cusiter, who has been capped 70 times, was initially dropped from the Scotland squad by Vern Cotter for this campaign – the first time he had been omitted since he entered the international arena as one of four new caps handed out by Matt Williams against Wales in Cardiff 11 years ago – the others were Dan Parks, Ally Hogg and Tom Philip.
But, looking towards his rivals for the No.9 jersey, Cusiter admits one scrum-half bolter in particular caught him by surprise. “I watched Sam in January and I thought he had a lot of pace and talent. I thought ‘he is playing well and going to come through at some point’.” Then, tongue-in-cheek, Cusiter quipped: “I was hoping it wouldn’t be in this Six Nations!”
He added: “Fair play to Sam but a real goal of mine remains to play in this Six Nations and make the World Cup (for a third tournament). Obviously I’ve had a bit of a setback but things can happen. There can be changes of opinion.
“Seeing Sam coming through has been good. Greig is the oldest after me and then there is Henry but you need younger guys coming through, pushing hard and putting pressure on.
“There is also Sean Kennedy at Edinburgh and Ali Price starting for Glasgow.
“I heard that Sam was going through his concussion protocol. They needed cover. I could be here for two days and head back but it is nice to be up and try and get up to speed so if, for whatever reason I get involved, I am ready.”
Getting regular game time at Sale while Scotland are restricted to only a couple of fully professional teams is obviously a benefit for Cusiter in the quest to understudy skipper Laidlaw if Hidalgo-Clyne is ruled out.
What Cusiter knows is that being left out for a couple of matches – he previously figured against Tonga in the Autumn as a substitute – has made him even more determined.
“Not making the squad, I thought ‘right, I’ll tell you what, I’ll play as well as I can and you have to pick me’. I was pretty disappointed for a couple of days, but it does strengthen your resolve for sure.”
In England’s Premiership Cusiter has mixed it once already this season with big rival Laidlaw when Sale encountered Gloucester and he has gone head-to-head with Newcastle’s Mike Blair with whom he once shared co-captaincy of Scotland. Blair declared his Scotland innings closed on 85 caps in 2012 but, approaching 34, is still going strong at top club level – something that should surely encourage Cusiter.