Scottish rugby exile Andy Cramond has told how he turned down the chance to develop a pro career on home turf – after deciding to commit to the European champions, Toulon.
The 20-year-old second row, from Edinburgh, has emerged as a hot prospect after debuting off the bench against Brive just weeks into a contract.
“I received a verbal offer from Glasgow, but after I was ready to go to Toulon,” said Cramond, whose abilities were spotted during the Under-20 Six Nations.
He added: “I signed with an agent who said a few French clubs were interested. Once I learned that Toulon were among them, I told him they were [my] number one.
“I asked him to concentrate on getting me to Toulon.”
It was another step on a remarkable journey in which the Royal High-educated tyro initially battle to sustain rugby involvement at grass-roots level.
“While I was at Royal High we were training every week, but there weren’t enough players,” he said. “Fortunately, the BATS [Broughton, Accies and Trinity schools’ combine] expanded to include me and I was also able to play for Royal High’s S1 team while I was in primary.
“When I was 17 years old I found myself playing National League Division Three for RH Cougars at places like Ellon and Langholm. It was all part of the learning until I went to study and joined Aberdeen Grammar FPs.”
That was where Andy entered the Scotland Under-20 ranks, with shrewd judges quickly noting he was particularly outstanding at securing re-start kicks.
Ten age-groups caps later and Andy finds himself at Toulon training alongside the game’s “galacticos” and taking French lessons in the company of IRB Player of the Year short-lister Leigh Halfpenny.
“It sometimes seems a bit ridiculous,” said Andy, adding: “I came with no intention of playing any first-team rugby this year, just to learn.
“Luckily for me, Bakkies Botha was away with South Africa and [All Black] Ali Williams is on the way back from shoulder surgery, so when there was another call-off I found myself on the bench.
“The first time I played for Scotland Under-20s, against Wales, I felt dead on my feet afterwards.
“Although I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect last Friday, as soon as I made my first tackle then hit my first ruck I thought, ‘I could be at home here’.
“I didn’t feel too out of place, although I know I have to put on weight because at the moment I am relatively small at 115kgs compared to some who are up to 135kgs.”
The bulking up will be allowed to occur naturally in tandem with gym programmes and Andy is learning on a daily basis, having struck up a bit of rapport with Williams.
“He’s been telling me his granny comes from Galashiels when taking some of the line-out drills I’ve been involved in.
“I am one of 15 Espoirs who are under-22 signings, and half of us train alongside the senior squad. We do sessions in the mornings and for an hour in the evening outwith the heat of the day, and it is such a contrast from this time last year, when I was enjoying university Freshers’ Week in Aberdeen.
“Studies are deferred and I really want to make the most of a contract, which is for a year with an extension option provided both the club and myself are happy.
“One taste of the first-team action has left me hungry for more and this weekend I expect to be back in the Espoirs team against Toulouse counterparts trying to earn another opportunity.
“Playing in the Stade Felix Mayol [Toulon’s home] is my next goal, with a full Scotland cap my dream,” he added.