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Shocked Fusaro has the stomach for a fight

Chris Fusaro admitted yesterday that pre-match nerves affect him so badly that he routinely throws up before games.

Chris Fusaro has been picked for his ability to steal back possession from opposing sides. Picture: SNS/SRU
Chris Fusaro has been picked for his ability to steal back possession from opposing sides. Picture: SNS/SRU

He also mentioned that Kelly Brown had told him not to leave anything on the pitch. For the avoidance of doubt, these two statements were not connected.

Yet if he plays to his best at Murrayfield tomorrow then the England forwards will certainly be sick of the sight of the 24-year-old from Fife. Fusaro may be a mystery to most of our friends in the south, but they will know all about him by full-time if he does what he has been chosen to do. The Glasgow Warriors player is an out-and-out openside, a ground feeder, a snaffler of poorly protected possession. He was a little vague about the precise details of his Italian ancestry yesterday, but you suspect there might be a truffle hound in there somewhere.

And a lot of passion as well. Fusaro is modest, polite, attentive and well spoken, but he is also ferociously competitive. Maybe too much so, for one of the aspects of his play he has been asked to rein in is his instinct to battle for every ball. It is also worth remembering that one of Scottish rugby's most spectacular fist fights of recent years was the one which earned him a red card for laying into Scott MacLeod - who was also sent off - after the final whistle of a Glasgow-Edinburgh derby at Firhill.

Fusaro found out about his selection over breakfast at the team hotel on Tuesday morning. He was heading to the buffet bar to replenish his plate when team manager Gavin Scott told him that Scott Johnson wanted a word. Given his gastric issues, it was no surprise that he decided to skip that extra portion of Rice Krispies after he was given the news.

"I went over and sat down, not knowing what to expect," Fusaro said. "I was just waiting for whatever and then Scott told me, 'you're going to be starting and we want you to play to your strengths and get over the ball'. After a while it suddenly sunk in that I was starting and it was pretty overwhelming.

"I was bit shocked. I had to pinch myself a couple of times. It was almost overwhelming emotionally but then I had to start focusing on the game straight away. I saw Kelly at training at Ravenscraig [the Scots were using the indoor facilities there] and he came over and congratulated me."

A touching gesture by the deposed captain, and a measure of the man. But even with Brown's good wishes ringing in this ears, Fusaro is aware that he has big boots to fill and big expectations to meet. As he pointed out, if Brown can be dropped after years of being a virtual fixture in the national team, then anyone can. "There's pressure," said Fusaro quietly. "But there's pressure in every game."

True, but the pressure is just a tad greater when you are playing in front of 67,500 people, against an English pack that is anxious to make amends, and in a jersey you have wanted so much it almost hurt at times. Fusaro has been taunted by the proximity of his first cap for the past couple of years, a prize that has been all but put in his hands before being cruelly whisked away.

The most recent blow was landed when he was chosen for the autumn international Test squad and then dropped soon afterwards. Johnson had told him there were aspects of his game he had to tidy up.

"It was a bit of a setback," said Fusaro. "You go into a national camp and hear that, but then again, you take the positives. I went away and it gave me something positive to focus on and work on with Glasgow. It's been good to see that recognised with the call back into the Six Nations squad."

Fusaro was a member of the all-conquering Bell Baxter High School and Howe of Fife youth sides that won the Scottish Schools Cup and SRU Youth League Final in the space of eight days at Murrayfield a few years ago. When he lines up for the anthems tomorrow, old team-mates and old coaches from that time will be firmly at the front of his mind.

But so, too, will be the job he has to do. In short, he has to be a bloody nuisance to England, a pain in their backsides. He has to speed up Scottish ball and slow down English possession. He has to be everywhere.

Well, nearly. "That's one of my main strengths, over ball, and obviously that's what I'll be focusing on come Saturday," he said. "You've got to pick your moments, trying to judge. Obviously instinct takes over but I'll be focusing on doing my job, trying not to change anything. I'll try and treat it as a normal match - obviously it isn't, but I think doing that will help me."

But there is that feeling of poignancy, too. You sense the tinge of regret in Fusaro's voice when he talks of taking the shirt off the back of a player who was such a considerate influence when he first pitched up at Glasgow as a teenager a few years ago.

"Kelly's been brilliant," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for him as a player and as a captain, and he said 'anything you want to ask, come and speak to me'. Absolutely a mark of the guy. I was still in the Academy when he was a senior player and he was always very friendly with the young guys. He had time for everyone, he was a great help back then as well."

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