Ex-coaches recall rise of Scots cap Hidalgo-Clyne

When Sam Hidalgo-Clyne eventually makes it off the bench and on to the BT Murrayfield pitch the impact will reverberate throughout the Capital rugby scene. He is pictured presenting a chequ to the Forrester Club below

When Sam Hidalgo-Clyne eventually makes it off the bench and on to the BT Murrayfield pitch the impact will reverberate throughout the Capital rugby scene. He is pictured presenting a chequ to the Forrester Club below

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When Sam Hidalgo-Clyne eventually makes it off the bench and on to the BT Murrayfield pitch the impact will reverberate throughout the Capital rugby scene.

Hidalgo-Clyne, who is expected to retain his place in the Scotland squad against Wales on Sunday, was born in Spain 22 years ago, but if ever a player had “made in Edinburgh” running through his rugby dna then it is the scrum half who was persuaded to take up rugby with the Forrester club while attending Corstorphine Primary. A scholarship to Merchiston Castle from Royal High School followed.

His journey through the ranks to that debut Scotland cap as a substitute in the dying embers of last weekend’s match in France started with encouragement from a retired butcher.

Hanging up his apron meant Bill Smith, now 72, being able to devote himself exclusively to his sporting passion and a development officer role that took him round primary schools in the west of the city on behalf of the Forrester club he represented as player and coach.

Bill recalled: “Sam and his older brother, Jose, both came along to rugby sessions and later to the Forrester mini section and what impressed me from the start was his enthusiasm.

“This extended to ringing my doorbell as an 11-year-old and effectively asking if I was coming out to play although he’d always say ‘I just happened to be passing so do you want to practise rugby?’

“We’d go across Glasgow Road to The Gyle Playing fields where I would fetch and carry as Sam perfected the passing and kicking skills that have become a hallmark.

“He was a perfectionist who never made any secret, although not in a bumptious way, of his intention to play for Scotland. To this day he continues to come to our club and help out.”

Coaches such as Allan Carson, who has gone on to help form Queensferry rugby club, played a part in Hidalgo-Clyne’s development at Forrester and word soon began to spread of the young prodigy with extraordinary versatility.

Richard Fleming was working as a Forrester development officer and helping coach Watsonians alongside ex-Scotland grand slam winger, Roger Baird, a Merchistonian.

Said Fleming: “Roger mentioned that his old school were looking to give a scholarship to a promising stand off and I knew straightaway that Sam fitted the bill.

“I’d seen Sam playing from seven years old and there was a grittiness and skill level way beyond anyone else in his group.

“At one stage Duncan Hodge (now Scotland’s assistant coach) came along to coach at Forrester and he picked out Sam immediately.”

Mark Appleson was in charge of rugby at Merchiston Castle when Hidalgo-Clyne was suggested as a scholarship beneficiary.

“I went along to watch Sam a few times for Forrester under-15s as a 12-year-old,” he says.

“In those days he was a full back and there was an X factor apparent.”

Hidalgo-Clyne moved to Merchiston Castle in his second year and when picked for the first team it was as a stand off outside Scott Steele, a scrum half now on the books of London Irish.

“Everything about Sam was spot on skill-wise but the biggest thing was his dogged character,” said Appleson, who is now teaching at Edinburgh Academy. “Sam never gave up on anything and it is just remarkable how far he has travelled in 18 months from bit parts at stand off for Heriot’s to being part of a Scotland squad that includes Fraser Brown, the 1st XV captain when he arrived at Merchiston.

“Having Fraser around will help Sam settle to top level; he always looked up to him.”

If Hidalgo-Clyne does gets the nod from head coach Vern Cotter to run on to his home pitch against Wales there will be a lump in the throat of Bill Smith who looked on with pride as the Paris encounter reached its denouement.

“I remember counting down the clock and although Sam only got about 90 seconds at the end when he emerged I said to myself ‘he’s made it’.”

Roles will be reversed this weekend with Smith dropping by at BT Murrayfield to see if Hidalgo-Clyne is coming out to play. But regardless, his discovery’s place in Forrester rugby folklore is now secure.

“There’s no question we will be marking Sam’s achievement of becoming the first cap produced by the club since Norrie Rowan in 1980, possibly with a dinner,” said Smith before setting off on his primary school rounds in search of the “next Sam Hidalgo-Clyne”.