EDINBURGH Rugby youngster Ross McCann revealed that he thought he was “in trouble” when he was called in for a meeting with his academy manager before learning that he had been chosen as one of this year’s recipients of the prestigious John Macphail Scholarship.
The Scotland Under-19 wing will join Glasgow Hawks centre Patrick Kelly in flying out to Canterbury in New Zealand on Saturday and spend 15 weeks immersed in the Crusaders’ high-performance unit and playing for local clubs in the Christchurch area. Now in its 12th year, the scholarship was established and funded by the Robertson Trust in memory of the former Scotland hooker John Macphail, who died in 2004.
From the inaugural award back in 2005 given to John Barclay, who won his 50th cap in the recent Six Nations, the subsequent decade has seen the likes of Kevin Bryce, Roddy Grant, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Finn Russell and Adam Ashe benefit from the experience before going on to forge successful professional and international careers.
McCann, 18, is a former pupil of Cramond Primary and the Royal High School and played football for Hutchison Vale before focusing on his rugby with RHC Cougars and then Stewart’s Melville.
He explained: “[Edinburgh BT Sport Scottish Rugby Academy manager] Graeme Beveridge called me about a week ago and asked if I could come in for a meeting at 3 o’clock and I thought I was maybe in trouble or something.
“Then I was told I was being offered the Macphail Scholarship and obviously I jumped at the chance.”
McCann said the illustrious list of former recipients brings a bit of pressure as well as inspiration. He said: “It’s a bit daunting actually because you read that list and see names like John Barclay, Finn Russell, Adam Ashe, guys who are big names now in Scottish rugby and in the rugby world generally.
“I’m hoping to follow in their footsteps and hopefully become one of this big names if I can.”
McCann is looking forward to improving his game in the hothouse environment of New Zealand rugby while, at the same time, developing as a person.
“I’ve spoken to Callum [Hunter-Hill] and Ben [Robbins] who were the scholars last year and been in the under-20s this year and they’ve helped me get my head around what it is.
“I understand we go out there, live with a family and you train at the Canterbury high-performance unit and you get a mentor out there from the Crusaders, who helps you develop your skills. It could be a World Cup winner or something.
“Crusaders are obviously one of the best teams on the planet, there is so much experience for me to learn from and grow my game and when I come back push for the under-20s next year. I’ve not really been away from home. It’s been my parents driving me to and from training and feeding me. So I’m looking forward to getting out there, look after myself and do things off my own back. It’s all about me growing as a person.”
Academy chief Stephen Gemmell and SRU director of rugby Scott Johnson made the final decisions after input from the academy managers, pro-team and age-grade coaches. Gemmell explained that outside backs was an area where they were particularly keen on bringing players on and said the burgeoning academy and age-grade programmes meant more and more young players are candidates for such an experience.
“It’s getting more difficult each year to make the decisions,” said Gemmell. “If you look back to the very beginning, John Barclay was the obvious choice because he was the stand-out young player at that time. Now we’ve got numerous players who are up for discussion and debate on how we get their programmes right.”