Six months makes the world of difference
Around four years ago to the day, an 18-year-old Scott Cummings was fresh out of the Fosroc Academy and World Rugby U20 Championship and set for his Glasgow Warriors debut in the Guinness PRO14.
Rugby World Cup 2015 was about to launch into action in England and, with the Scotstoun club sending seven forwards, the former Kelvinside Academy pupil had the chance to put his inspired U20 performances into practice in the big league.
“It was quite an interesting time. I’d just come out the back of our U20’s year in Italy and my aim was to try and get some pro exposure and potentially get involved in a pre-season game.
“When I was told I was getting a start against Scarlets in the first game of the season it was a whirlwind of emotions. You’re thinking ‘this is amazing, this is what I’ve dreamed of’ while also realising that you’re going out there and you really have to step up."
Cummings performances took him on a professional rugby rite of passage as an emerging talent in a well-populated Warriors boiler-house, going from 17 appearances in his first two seasons to adding more than double that (42) in the two that followed.
Despite the numbers it wasn’t all plain sailing last season, as an ankle injury on the road against the Kings in September disrupted his selection chances at his club and therefore any prospect of playing his way into Scotland selection.
Much like his debut in 2015, this year’s Six Nations presented him with a clearer shot at the club opportunities he sought, without so much of a thought for the looming world cup.
“It’s cliched but when I’m playing for Glasgow that’s all I’m thinking about. We had a lot of big games towards the end of this season.
"I got the chance to play and got into a really good run of form leading up to the final, playing for my home team in front of 50,000 people.”
Big games and performances were a regular feature of his run-in to the final, with his work in the loose a stand-out feature.
Unfortunately for Scott, it wasn’t enough to make Head Coach Gregor Townsend’s initial 42-man wider world cup squad named in early May, however – after showing up well in the final – he and Kyle Steyn were added to what became a 44-man group competing for a place at a tournament that sits right at the pinnacle of the sport.
Still one to focus on the immediate, it was the prospect of living a life-long dream and crossing the paint as a senior Scotland player that stole the limelight in Cummings' mind’s eye.
“When I got a call to say I was in the squad I was as happy as anything. I was thinking ‘right, that’s amazing, now I can just go and train as hard as I can and see if, potentially, I can even get a cap for Scotland’, which at the timed seemed completely out there.
“I wasn’t thinking about Japan even though everyone keeps asking you ‘do you think you’ll go?’ Honestly at the start I was just thinking that I've got six or seven weeks to try and prove myself to get a cap."
As pre-season passed, Cummings’ hard work paid off and he earned selection for his debut against France in Nice, coming on as a replacement in Scotland’s 32-3 defeat at the Allianz Riviera Stadium.
Not the ideal circumstance perhaps but a memorable moment, nonetheless.
“Obviously the result didn’t go our way but it didn’t put a dampener on it. It was still one of the most amazing days of my life.
“It was sort of a strange experience as everyone else is so gutted, but you’re so happy at the same time, even though it’s hard to be happy after a game you’ve just been thumped in.
“It was a day I’ve been dreaming of for years, and all the boys were really supportive of me.
“It’s quite good if you get your first cap away from home because you almost get another first cap when you play at BT Murrayfield.
“It was a completely different experience. Playing in front of the passion of the home crowd feels like everyone is behind you and cheering you on. It was another amazing experience.”
So it was that he went from starting the spring as a man battling for club contention to being named, at the second-time of asking, as one of five uncapped players in the wider Scotland squad.
He finished the warm-up campaign with four caps, two starts and one try to his name, and ultimately being announced in the final 31-man group at the ripe old age of 22.
Recapping the journey brings a broad smile with a touch of bewilderment as he reflects on the turnaround and the palpable excitement of it all.
“Looking back to six months ago when I wasn’t even getting picked for my club team to potentially playing in a world cup in some of the biggest games in rugby is pretty strange.
“Even when I was waiting on that call, I still didn’t think I was going. I was sitting there thinking back on an amazing couple of weeks and that I might be back at Glasgow soon.
“I was just so happy when I got that phone call that said I was going. I immediately started looking up what Japan was like because we were flying out a week later.”
After a fourth and final Test match the squad set off for Japan where Cummings' immediate ambitions have readjusted for the third time in the past six months.
Knuckling down is what earned him his first extended squad call-up, and again in the final 31-man squad. Understandably, that's the young lock’s approach for the campaign itself, now he’s made it to the Land of the Rising Sun.
“Surreal is still the world I’d use to describe the fact we’re thousands of miles away from Scotland at a world cup. It’s an amazing place to come and makes the tournament that bit extra special.
“We all want to play in the first Ireland game, but we know that only 23 of us are going to get that chance so, as much as we’re all fighting for that position, we’re all trying to help each other to win that game as well.
“It's a real squad effort and the best way to help that is to keep on with what you’re doing. There’s no need to change things just because you’re at a world cup, just stick at what you’re good at, work on weaknesses and work on your strengths.
“If I’m involved in that game then that would be absolutely amazing but if I’m not I’ll do everything I can for the team because, at the end of the day, we want to win as Scotland.”