While former Merchiston Castle pupils Fraser Brown and Magus Bradbury are preparing for the upcoming Six Nations rugby tournament with the full Scotland team, a quartet of more recent school leavers are also getting ready for their own showpiece event during the next couple of months.
Matthew Currie, Dan Gamble, Kieran Watt and Rufus McLean have been trainig with the Scotland under-20 squad in recent weeks – and they have all been named in the matchday 23 for the first match away to Ireland on Friday evening.
Matthew, Dan and Kieran start with Rufus, recently back from injury, on the bench.
After Ireland, the age-grade competition then continues at home to England (February 7) in Italy on February 21, at home to France on March 6 and culminates in Wales on March 13.
It is likely that another fellow ex-pupil, Jamie Dobie, would have also been involved with the Scots for the event had he not been required at pro club Glasgow Warriors during this period.
Centre Matthew, who won the 2018/19 Scottish Schools Cup with the school alongside Dobie, is looking forward to earning caps at this level under head coach Sean Lineen.
“The culture which I was part of under Director of Rugby Roddy Deans at school has helped me continue to take my rugby forward to this level because we were taught a lot about team work and doing your bit for the squad while at Merchiston,” he explained.
“We worked hard in training and in matches, but also built up good relationships off the pitch and to that end it is nice to be starting my under-20s journey with Dan who I was in the same year at school as.
“I played for Scotland under-18s for two years and was part of the under-19s squad that went to Wales for a match earlier this season so now I am just focused on trying to make the step-up into the under-20s.”
Matthew is a Stage Three FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy player now and, with that, he has been training with Edinburgh Rugby on Mondays and Tuesdays in recent months.
And whilst in that professional environment the Edinburgh University business student has been learning from a more experienced former Merchiston man.
“James Johnstone obviously plays in the same position as me and he has been really good with me, helping me in terms of positioning and other tips,” he stated.
“The group of centres that Edinburgh have is top class so I just try to learn from them all and being in that environment is great for any young player.”
Matthew, who is also involved with Watsonians in the new semi-pro FOSROC Super6 league, has had a ‘stop start’ few months.
“I was concussed in a pre-season game with Watsonians and then hurt my AC joint in my shoulder in the under-19s game in Wales, but I am getting back into things now and just hopeful of getting a chance with the under-20s,” he said.
“It has always been a dream to play in a Six Nations competition.”
Like Matthew, prop Dan has played for Scotland under-18s for the last two years and believes his time at Merchiston has prepared him well for the next challenge of under-20s rugby.
“In the last couple of years at school things were really stepped up a level to help get us ready for rugby post-Merchiston,” he explained.
“The training led by Mr Deans was very detailed while we learnt a lot about nutrition, strength & conditioning and video analysis of games.
“I was gutted to miss out on playing in the [2018/19] Scottish Schools Cup final with a wrist injury, but hard work put in with Mr Deans and others allowed me to get back and play my second year of Scotland under-18 rugby in early 2019 and I was grateful for that.
“As a front-row every time you go up a level you are tested more physically and technically, but I feel I left school last summer ready to try and test myself in senior rugby.”
Since last summer Dan has been a Stage Three FOSROC Scottish Rugby Academy and has also benefitted hugely from training with Edinburgh in the early part of most weeks.
“As a tighthead prop predominantly it has been amazing to train with guys like Scotland caps WP Nel and Simon Berghan and Italy cap Pietro Ceccarelli when in have been in with Edinburgh,” Gamble, who is studying agriculture at SRUC based at Edinburgh University’s King’s Buildings, explained.
“You can learn so much about scrummaging from them whilst in my first Super6 competitive match with Heriot’s I found myself scrummaging against [loosehead prop] Gordon Reid of the Ayrshire Bulls.
“It was effectively my second game in men’s rugby and I was up against a guy who had just come back from Japan and the World Cup with Scotland!
“That was quite surreal, but I feel like I am learning all the time and I am looking forward to taking my chance if it comes with the under-20s.
“For us it has also been a massive boost seeing our friend Jamie [Dobie] doing so well at Glasgow and shows how well Merchiston is doing when it comes to rugby.”
Second-row Kieran was not named in the original Scotland under-20 training squad in December, but an impressive performance for the Watsonians Super6 team against the age-grade squad in early January saw him called-up to the wider training group.
He grew up playing his rugby at GHA in Glasgow and moved to Merchiston for his final two years of school.
“I enjoyed coming into the Merchiston environment for those two years and it allowed me to focus a bit more on my rugby and really decide that it was something I wanted to take forward after school,” the economics student at Heriot-Watt University explained.
“When I left school [in 2017] I was 17 because I have a February birthday so I was quite young, but I went straight into senior rugby with Watsonians and was lucky enough to get some game time in the first XV that year [2017/18].
“The fitness and condition work we had undertaken at Merchiston had helped me get ready for the physicality I would go onto face in senior rugby and since then I have just been continuing to learn.”
The 2018/19 season was spent playing between the first and second XVs at Watsonians and this term Kieran is part of the Super6 squad alongside fellow Merchistonian Currie.
And now, having impressed under-20s forwards coach Shade Munro in the aforementioned training game earlier this month, the former under-16 and 18 cap is enjoying being in the mix for the Six Nations.
“It has been great coming into camp with the under-20 boys and there is some real talent in this squad so I am just really getting my head down and trying to do my best,” he said.
“To play a part in the under-20 Six Nations is good and an honour, we will just have to see what happens in the coming weeks.”
Rufus, who left school in the summer of 2018, will cover the back three off the bench.
He was a star player when he was at the school and played for Scotland age-grade sides.
Last season he was at Watsonians playing in the Tennent’s Premiership and earned two under-20 caps against Italy and Ireland.
However, injuries hampered his 2018/19 and they have also made 2019/20 ‘stop start’ for the Strathclyde University student who now plays for Boroughmuir Bears in the Super6. Now he is back and ready to go.
Scotland under-20 team to face Ireland on Friday at Independent Park, Cork (kick-off 7.15pm):
15 Ollie Smith (Ayrshire Bulls)
14 Jacob Henry (Southern Knights)
13 Matthew Currie (Watsonians Rugby)
12 Robbie McCallum (Boroughmuir Bears)
11 Jack Blain (Heriot’s Rugby)
10 Nathan Chamberlain (Hartpury College/Bristol Bears)
9 Roan Frostwick (Watsonians Rugby)
1 Alex Maxwell (Stourbridge)
2 Ewan Ashman (Sale Sharks)
3 Dan Gamble (Heriot’s Rugby)
4 Kieran Watt (Watsonians Rugby)
5 Cameron Henderson (Stirling County)
6 Jack Hill (Durham University)
7 Connor Boyle (Watsonians Rugby)
8 Rory Darge (Southern Knights, C)
16 Rory Jackson (Watsonians Rugby)
17 Mak Wilson (Southern Knights)
18 Thomas Lambert (Sydney University)
19 Jamie Campbell (Biggar)
20 Gregor Brown (Boroughmuir Bears)
21 Kyle McGhie (Boroughmuir Bears)
22 Cameron Scott (Boroughmuir Bears)
23 Rufus McLean (Boroughmuir Bears)
Thanks to Scottish Rugby/SNS for the main photos