Man of Steele
It’s barely four months since Scott Steele was called into the Scotland squad for the first time for the Autumn Nations Cup and truncated truncated 2020 Guinness Six Nations at the tail end of last year.
The Harlequins scrum-half, who was essentially without a club after being released by London Irish, has continued his rise with involvement in the Scotland Class of 2021, forming part of the scrum-half stable Gregor Townsend selected for this year’s championship.
The Dumfries-born 27-year-old tasted victory against Wales on debut, coming off the bench during a first Scottish win on Welsh soil in 18 years, before repeating the trick in the historic Calcutta Cup triumph at Twickenham in the opening round of this year’s Guinness Six Nations.
He was also a replacement in last weekend's narrow defeat to Ireland and will make his first start for his country against Italy at BT Murrayfield this Saturday.
Speaking in the latest edition of Scottish Rugby's The Front Row digital magazine, Steele said: “I was still fairly new to the set-up for this Six Nations camp as I’d only been involved once before, so there’s still lots for me to learn within this environment but it’s great to be a part of. I was a lot more relaxed coming into this camp, knowing what to expect from training and having gotten to know the boys and staff a bit more.”
Alongside Glasgow Warrior Ali Price, Steele forms part of a two-pronged scrum-half attack for this year’s championship [added to during the past month by the full inclusion of Jamie Dobie], which in theory ensures he is part of each matchday squad. Is that a blessing, then?
“It helps and it doesn’t, because you want to start the games if possible, going up against a great scrum-half in Ali [Price] and Jamie too,” he explained.
“We’re all trying to spur one another on and put our best foot forward in training for selection.
“So it’s not a case of sitting back and thinking I’m going to be involved for the games, it’s about doing my very best in these sessions and seeing where that takes me. If the opportunity comes to start or come off the bench it’s important that the work has been put in to make sure I perform when selected.”
It's been a whirlwind few months for Steele, who was brought on to play wing in the aforementioned Doddie Weir Cup game against Wales at Parc y Scarlets in October of last year.
That debut may not have come as he expected – without fans and out of position – but the nature of such an occasion was nonetheless special and etched into Steele’s memory, as he added: “The way that the game unfolded in Wales, there were a couple of early injuries and if you’re the last back on the bench, you’ll normally be held back until the last five minutes, if that, in case of further injury. That’s the way it was looking, so when I got called upon to go on [and replace Adam Hastings after 68 minutes] it happened very quickly.
“Coming on to play wing was a bit nervy, but I’d played there a fair amount earlier in my club career for Harlequins and London Irish, but because it was a Six Nations match, and we were winning, I had to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes that would allow them back in the game.
“It was a great occasion, and to get a win down there was special, after how long Scotland had waited to beat Wales away. It perhaps wasn’t how I imagined it growing up, with no fans there, but it was a great moment and something that will live with me for the rest of my days.”
Steele’s Scotland bow was of course made without any friends or family in the stands to cheer him on, although he greatly appreciates the lengths to which the camp marked such an occasion in the circumstances: “The management team did really well to get my cap presentation over Zoom with my family and friends, so that people back home could watch and feel they were a part of the occasion. That made things very special even if circumstances were a bit different,” he explained.
“They had done something similar for the game against Georgia last year, when Oli [Kebble] and Duhi [Duhan van der Merwe] had their caps presented on a big screen at BT Murrayfield, so I hoped that I would get something similar and it was really nice to have that happen. It meant a lot to me and my family and I’m really grateful that my first cap was marked that way.”
With a second cap coming by way of a first Scottish win at Twickenham since 1983, and then a third against Ireland in round four of this year’s Guinness Six Nations, albeit in the back-row of all places, Scott Steele has enjoyed a start to his international career that few could have predicted.
Now he can look forward to making his first start for Scotland this weekend - in his customary scrum-half position.