TWO years on from his first Scotland squad call-up, Edinburgh hooker David Cherry is confident he is closer than ever to winning his first cap. In 2019 he was one of three uncapped players in his position to be named in the national squad, but unlike Glasgow’s Grant Stewart and Leicester’s Jake Kerr he did not go on to make his debut that year.
Recent form, however, has put the 30-year-old above those two in the pecking order, and while he would give nothing away yesterday when asked about his possible inclusion in the national group that will be announced by head coach Gregor Townsend today, injuries to Fraser Brown and Stuart McInally make it probable that Cherry will not only be included, but also be in the matchday 23 to face England in the first game in the Six Nations.
Brown is out of the Championship because of a neck injury sustained in the Autumn Nations Cup, while McInally is awaiting a specialist assessment after he damaged his neck in training.
McInally may well be included by Townsend until such time as he is definitively ruled out of the opening two rounds of matches, but as things stand Glasgow’s George Turner is set to start at Twickenham, with Cherry the front-runner to be his back-up on the bench. “I get on really well with Stuart and you hate to see somebody injured,” Cherry said. “But rugby doesn’t stop and sometimes players just need a bit of an opportunity – and I hope to show that with this game time I’m now getting.”
A team-mate of McInally’s since returning to Scotland from Stade Nicois and signing for Edinburgh in 2018, Cherry has also known Brown since his Merchiston Castle schooldays. “Again, it’s not nice to see someone injured, but I guess it does bring it a bit closer,”
he said of the Glasgow player’s injury. “Hopefully the stars will align and I get an opportunity.
“Why does any young lad or lady start playing rugby? The dream is to play for your country. That’s what I want to do. It is my goal, and it’s closer than it has been, I’d say, so I just have to focus on myself and hopefully the stars will align.”
Cherry’s 2019 call-up came when both Brown and Turner were injured, but in the end Brown was only out for one game, in which Kerr got the nod behind McInally. Stewart was then capped in a World Cup warm-up later in the year, but for Cherry it was a case of so near and yet so far.
“Of course I was frustrated, but it’s outwith my control,” he said of that experience two years ago. “I’ve just got to focus on myself, and I think I’ve matured as a player.
“In my opinion I’ve produced some good performances, but as I’ve always said it’s not up to me who picks the squad, it’s just up to me to play well and put my name forward and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I always thought I was good enough to play at this level, but it [the Scotland squad]was a big step up. But I’ve fitted in pretty well at Edinburgh and I’ve put in some good performances, so I don’t think I’m a million miles off.”
While hooker is the real problem position for Townsend at present in terms of injuries, the head coach has concerns in the back row too. Jamie Ritchie missed out on Edinburgh’s defeat by Glasgow at the weekend and is still going through concussion protocols, and although he may be passed fit to play against Zebre on Saturday it is possible that he will be sidelined for longer, which would leave a gap at blindside to be filled.
Even if all of his back-row contenders were available, though, Townsend’s principal worry is who to pick at No 8. Blade Thomson, Cornell du Preez, Nick Haining, Matt Fagerson and Magnus Bradbury have all been tried in the position but none of them has made an incontestable case to be given the jersey.
Newcastle’s Gary Graham, capped twice in 2019, is therefore likely to come into consideration.
Whoever he selects in the back row, Townsend is set to find space somewhere in his squad as usual for at least two more uncapped players in addition to Cherry.