Phil Smith is not surprised at the progress of Edinburgh scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne over the season just ended.
But the Heriot’s coach admits that the pace of the youngster’s rise has exceeded expectations.
Hidalgo-Clyne was named as the Guinness Pro12 Young Player of the Year on Sunday, capping a season that has seen him cement the starting spot for Edinburgh and make his full Scotland debut.
The 21-year-old played under Smith at age group level and was allocated to Heriot’s under the professional draft two seasons ago, just as he started his conversion from utility back to specialist scrum-half.
“At that point he was training as a scrum-half so that was the reason for picking him,” recalls Smith. “I knew him before that – he is a talented rugby player obviously but he hadn’t really fixed himself to a position.”
The club environment allowed Hidalgo-Clyne to develop the specific skills of his new berth and he soon revealed the talents that have blossomed over recent months.
“At that point he was really still learning his trade so we tried to accommodate him as much as we could. It’s all about experience and getting time in the position,” adds Smith. “He had all the attributes, he just hadn’t had enough scrum-half experience.”
The coach, who this season led the Goldenacre club to the BT Premiership title, saw at first hand the innate talent which has allowed Hidalgo-Clyne to develop into a consistently high level performer.
“Passing the ball he is good at; kicking he is good at; it was then about getting him to understand the role of a nine which he is obviously now picking up really well,” Smith points out. “On top of that, he adds all the extra stuff.
“He can make breaks, he can get away from people and he can involve a lot of people in the game. I watch him now and he is fantastic. He brings real energy and pace to a game.”
The driving force behind his conversion was Scottish Rugby’s need to develop more scrum-halves given a shortage identified in the system by a matrix used in the academy set up to show positions where there is limited talent coming through. The same tool has led to the redeployment of other talented individuals – the switch by back rower Stuart McInally to hooker being another current example at Edinburgh. Smith could discern the potential for Hidalgo-Clyne to become the first choice scrum-half at the BT Murrayfield-based outfit, but did not expect the trajectory of the player’s career to be so steep.
“I am surprised in that his progress has been so quick,” concedes Smith. “I don’t mean that in a negative way. I am delighted it has been so quick. He has really been able to put all his skills together. He is very vocal, he is quite a confident wee kid. He has obviously worked really hard and he is getting backed now and is living off that.”
And given the startling rate at which the one time full back, winger and stand-off has developed in the scrum-half role, there is no reason why he should not make the Scotland No.9 shirt his personal property over the coming years, according to Smith.
“Unfortunately for Greig (Laidlaw), I think Sam is the future for Scotland because of what he brings outwith his role as a nine. Greig is probably still the best controlling nine we’ve got but if you are looking for someone who offers a bit extra, then maybe Sam’s the man.”