Rugby: Returning Leonard takes stock after whirlwind debut campaign

Harry Leonard, centre, makes his first Edinburgh start this season against the Dragons

Harry Leonard, centre, makes his first Edinburgh start this season against the Dragons

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Harry LEONARD steps back into the Edinburgh Rugby team at Newport Gwent Dragons in the RaboDirect PRO12 League tonight determined to show the benefits of an action-packed debut campaign 12 months ago.

Leonard was only 19 years old when making the first of three starts at stand off in the Heineken European Cup, off the back of a summer spent in New Zealand as part of the Macphail Rugby Scholarship.

As well as helping pilot 
Edinburgh to Euro wins at London Irish and in the epic 48-47 home win over Racing Metro, the teenager also got a league start against Leinster, subsequent European champions, while he kicked all 15 of Edinburgh’s points in a home encounter with Dragons.

And still he wasn’t finished, with the summer seeing him not only head off with Scotland to the world under-20 
championships in South Africa, but installed as captain to boot.

Given just how much he crammed in, it is perhaps not surprising that Leonard has had to wait until five games in for an opportunity with 
Edinburgh and now that it has 
arrived, he is ready to grab it with both hands.

“I just tried to take every game as it came last season and tried not to look too far ahead,” said the 20-year-old.

“But on reflection it was an amazing period and maybe it is for the best that things have calmed down.

“I’ve had a bit of time to gather myself and my thoughts and to try to make sure I build on what has gone before.

“The junior world cup was such a massive learning curve with so much talent on display from nations you wouldn’t normally come up against, such as Australia and Argentina with their completely different styles.

“I learned to take the best bits off what they do and try to 
include it in my own game.

“I really enjoyed being 
Scotland under-20 captain, 
although just to be picked was honour enough.

“But the experience has 
provided a bit of extra 
confidence which will come in useful, because as a stand off you have to be willing to boss players around a bit and there are some very seasoned players at Edinburgh.

“Fortunately I have had the benefit of operating at half back outside players who really know their way around.

“Last season it was Chris Leck, Greig Laidlaw and Mike Blair. Now Richie Rees has come on board with Mike moving on and he has continued to take pressure off my shoulders.

“Richie is a great leader whose voice is heard assisting right through the team.”

Leonard, too, is not afraid to make points when the cause arises and it was noticeable that when he returned to his Boroughmuir club for an outing against Currie recently, long 
after the final whistle he was to be seen out on the pitch in 
earnest discussion with coaches Fergus Pringle and David Officer.

It is Dragons that pre-occupy Leonard now, though, and he said: “Last season they beat us twice and from what we hear they are targeting this game as well.

“I haven’t faced them in Wales but I am aware that they play simple rugby based on hitting up hard, which can be very 
effective. They are also very confrontational.”

Leonard will be ready, though, well aware of what the season could have in store.

“At the world championships my captaincy counterpart when we played Australia was Liam Gill and he has now gone on to gain a full cap,” he added.

“That situation reinforced my view that the gap between the under-20s and the pro game isn’t that wide, especially with Stuart Hogg gaining a full cap for Scotland in the same season that he played age-group rugby.”

With the Scotland stand off position looking quite fluid just now beyond sitting tenant Greig Laidlaw, rested by Edinburgh tonight, who knows just how far a string of quality performances could take Leonard.