Edinburgh prop Ewan McQuillin relishing New Zealand trip

Ewan McQuillin
Ewan McQuillin
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Pro12 rookie Ewan McQuillin will be undertaking a familiar journey when he flies to New Zealand this week, aiming to boost prospects of regular Edinburgh Rugby starts.

The 22-year-old, who has won the annual 15-week Macphail Scholarship to Christchurch, revealed how, as a teenager, he made a similar trip at his own expense.

“Three years ago one of the boys at my Gala club sold me the idea of going to New Zealand for a summer just as he had done,” said McQuillin.

“I joined the Sumner club and it was helpful experiencing a different style of play, more off-the-cuff and faster.

“It’s back to Christchurch but, while the last trip was more of a holiday, this is serious improvement stuff.

“I’m going to be training with professionals at the Canterbury rugby academy in the hope of coming back and really pushing for a starting place with Edinburgh.

“It’s going to be a mountain of hard work in New Zealand but I intend to make sure things get even harder when I return.”

Such commitment is all a far cry from when McQuillin started out.

“I was more into football but my dad played for the Earlston club and he took me along to rugby sessions at Galashiels’ Victoria Park,” he said.

“I played through a couple of youth teams and for Gala Academy when we beat Robert Gordon’s to win the under-15 Scottish Cup on the main Murrayfield pitch.

“However, some of our team were getting picked for representative squads and, when I missed out, I thought there was no chance of an elite development contract. By this time, I had become hooked on rugby through watching Ross Ford and Geoff Cross playing for Border Reivers.”

The breakthrough for McQuillin proved a case of ‘dead man’s shoes’ on the day of last year’s Macphail Scholarship announcement.

No sooner had Edinburgh’s Alex Allan been named for the prize than the prop broke an ankle in training. The call went out for someone to step in and train with Edinburgh and McQuillin was chosen.

“Gala had had a cracking couple of seasons allowing the likes of myself and Lee Miller (now London Scottish stand-off) to put ourselves in the frame with results like our 24-10 Scottish Cup win against Ayr in 2012.

“That was the third time I’d won a national cup as I’d also succeeded with the Gala Red Triangle youth team. The idea of trying to get back to Murrayfield as a professional was developing. Gala’s a close-knit club who look after talent well and boys can get pushed higher from there.

“My call-up to Edinburgh was initially on a temporary basis but, a year on, I’m still here!”

Debut day finally arrived against Ulster last month after being taken as a reserve to Scarlets a few weeks earlier.

“Although I didn’t get on at Scarlets, it was a valuable experience travelling with the team, being on the pitch, warming up beforehand.

“When it came to making a first appearance in a home game I was better prepared.

“Nerves came partly from coming off the bench with a few minutes to go against top players but more because I didn’t want to make any mistakes.

“(Coach) Alan Solomons is very disciplined about his systems and Omar (Mouneimne) the defence coach is a stickler.

“I knew about ten minutes beforehand I was going on when I got the call to warm up and there was a lot to remember. It can be a bit hectic at times learning calls and, while you just want to go out and play, it isn’t about yourself so much as being part of a unit working together in scrums and line-outs.”

McQuillin justified the faith and a week later, at Treviso, doubled his pro appearances.

Impending departure rendered him unavailable for last week’s win at Newport Gwent Dragons and his appetite for Canterbury has been whetted by tales of how predecessors on the scholarship, like Grant Gilchrist, had been taken under the wings of All Blacks such as Sam Whitelock.

“I’ve seen the All Blacks on television, obviously, and when they have come to Murrayfield.

“I’ve always wanted an opportunity to see close up how they prepare and perform and now it has come my way.”

Taking opportunities is certainly something Ewan McQuillin has excelled at.