BEFORE we wish a hearty “goodbye and don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out,” in 2020, let’s note that in Scottish rugby this year there were some positive stories. In reality, more than a few.
Since March, club rugby and Super6 have been in limbo, but after long dry spells, each of our four professional teams have seen players either emerge from relative obscurity or reassert themselves. A variety of coaches, most notably the two national teams, have also come through. Here’s our list of 10 individuals who have encouraged us and made us excited about 2021 over the past 12 months.
RORY SUTHERLAND The Edinburgh winger is now so firmly known as Scotland’s first choice that it seems impossible to believe that it has not been used since the summer of 2016 at the beginning of the year. The main reason for that long break was a long injury, but with a combination of hard work, persistence and no small amount of natural ability, Sutherland fought his way back. When he got his opportunity, he definitely made up for lost time, finally playing for Gregor Townsend’s side in all nine Tests that year.
At just 26, he also finished on a high in 2020, playing a key role last weekend in Edinburgh’s comeback win over Sale. It was a success that prompted the former England striker, BT Sport analyst David Flatman, to pick the Hawick guy in the Lions squad for the South Africa tour next summer.
SCOTT CUMMINGS The Glasgow lock, like Sutherland, found a permanent role in the Scotland team reasonably quickly. The 24-year-old only made his debut in last year’s World Cup warm-up game against France, but in the second row, he is already penciled in to partner former Warriors teammate Jonny Gray.
RACHEL MALCOLM In her first appearance for Scotland in 2017, the Loughborough Lightning attacker suffered an injury, playing at hooker, and had to bide her time before first being allowed to play in her usual role and then being established as captain. Even though she led the team for the first time in 2018, after periods with Lisa Thomson and Helen Nelson at the helm, Malcolm only established herself in that role last season. Her maturity, consistency and composure should ensure that for some time she remains there.
RACHEL SHANKLAND While Malcolm already has nearly a bundle of international caps under her belt, her namesake Shankland has played only one of them so far, in a memorable Six Nations match against France at Scotstoun. It will probably not be her last. To add physicality to the Scottish defense, the Stirling County winger was picked and she did just that, scoring the attempt that inspired the team to a 13-13 draw after it looked impossible at 13-3 already.
The man who chose Shankland to play France also deserves praise. BRYAN EASSON After a spell as assistant coach of Philip Doyle, Easson took over as interim head coach in the summer when, for covid reasons, the Irishman’s contract ended early. In their first Six Nations matches, Scotland suffered, losing narrowly in Dublin and then heavily at home to England, but the former national coach gradually regained the confidence of the squad and deserves to see his appointment become permanent.
LEE JONES The Glasgow winger made his debut late last month after being forced to take 22 months off after a series of injuries. Jones is a valuable new signing for them in the middle of a very tough season for the Warriors – someone who can add fresh drive and passion to a squad that has shown little morale at times.
NATHAN CHAMBERLAIN In the Under-20 Six Nations tournament in the spring, including a Russelles-like chip and chase for the second attempt, the attacking midfielder, who caught the eye with a hat-trick against Wales, subsequently created some impressively assured Edinburgh performances, often in adverse circumstances. So far, head coach Richard Cockerill has been used sparingly, which is understandable when new Scotland international Jaco van der Walt is available, but he has shown – most noticeably in the 18-0 victory over Cardiff – that he obviously has the potential to play a major role in the years to come.
JACK BLAIN The winger has made just a handful of appearances for Edinburgh so far, like teammate Chamberlain, but has quickly established a