Tom Heathcote aims to become Edinburgh’s first choice

Tom Heathcote would love to add to his three Scotland caps but he has to establish himself with Edinburgh first
Tom Heathcote would love to add to his three Scotland caps but he has to establish himself with Edinburgh first
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New Edinburgh Rugby stand off Tom Heathcote has had enough of being on the outside looking in.

The 22-year-old found himself on a limb during Scotland’s summer tour as the only traveller not to experience any game time after joining halfway through. And, going into last season, he was short-listed as a likely winner of the English Premiership’s annual “Breakthrough Award” only for Bath club rival George Ford to slam the door with outstanding form that earned him England caps. Time, then, for a re-appraisal culminating in a move north, but if Inverness-born Heathcote, capped three times by Scotland, thought he could phase himself in at Edinburgh, a shock awaited with coach Alan Solomons immediately declaring he should hit the ground running.

“Tom joins us with three seasons’ experience in the English Premiership so I expect him to make a valuable contribution straight away,” said Solomons.

Any anxiety is easily understood as Harry Leonard, who filled the No.10 jersey most often last season (16 times), has moved to Leeds, while Greig Tonks (5) and Carl Bezuidenhout (6) never had time to flourish.

Also, Greig Laidlaw may have played exclusively at scrum half for club and country last season, but he was always capable of a highly competent stand off shift but, alas, he too has shipped out, to Gloucester.

Against that background of upheaval with Piers Francis also used last season, Edinburgh have been crying out for someone to take the jersey by the scruff of the neck from stand off and the good news is that Heathcote appears more than ready to channel the type of frustration attached to being the only unused sub against Argentina on tour in the right direction, while managing to remain philosophical.

“It’s always good to be involved in a (Scotland) squad no matter what situation you are in whether it be part of Six Nations training or away on tour,” said Heathcote. “You take away a lot from that environment but at the same time it wasn’t how I wanted the tour to go.

“Argentina was one of those games. I got that feeling I was not going to get on and, to be honest, I had got pretty used to that over the past year at Bath.

“You see how a game develops and realise you are not going to get on. To not be involved in the squad for the South Africa game was disappointing.

“But when I found out on the Thursday beforehand that meant I only had a couple of sessions left to stay positive and support the boys as best I could going into the game. I just tried to keep my head down and try not to let it affect me too much.”

There is a maturity in those remarks that augurs well and he knows, too, that he will be kept on his toes with Phil Budleigh, who has a reputation for playing all round the back-line, arriving soon from New Zealand.

Competition can be a catapult back to a Scotland career that started with the ill-fated clash with Tonga in Aberdeen that contributed to Andy Robinson leaving his post, albeit Heathcote also faced Italy and Samoa last summer.

“I obviously want to get more game time than I have had in the last couple of years at Bath which is one of the main reasons for the move. I want to break into the team and establish myself, try and play a lot after frustrating years. I want to develop and take my game forward.

“I need to play well with Edinburgh before I get an opportunity again in a Scotland shirt and it is a long time since I had that chance. If it does come again I have to be ready for it.”

Always regarded as one of the more skilful of play-makers, Heathcote could be helped by the absence of relegation in the Pro 12 which allows players to be more expressive.

However, he points out that aiming for the top seven and a place in the leading European competition now adds to the intensity.

“Pre-season is when you have obviously got to show what you are about, but at the same time you have to be sensible and balance the rugby side of things.

“You have to be professional but it is different and here the training has a different focus.

“It is more functional as opposed to building a big power base like we did at Bath and I am looking forward to the challenge ahead.”

Ironically, goal-kicker Heathcote could make his first appearance on Saturday week at Melrose in the friendly with Leicester Tigers who were the team he notched his first Bath points against back in 2011.