RECENT political machinations may have diminished the USA’s claim to being the land of opportunity, but former Ayr tight-head prop Steven Longwell is certain that his impending move to the nation’s capital can provide him with his big chance to make it as a full-time rugby player.

At 30 years of age, he is no spring chicken, but points out that he is just coming into his prime as a front-row forward, and after his time playing with Verona in Italy last season was cut short by coronavirus, he is now chomping at the bit to get back playing with Old Glory DC during the 2021 Major League Rugby season.

“I don’t want to be that guy who just floats around and doesn’t really push himself onwards to be the best he can be during the short time we all have as players,” he said. “I want to play as often as I can and have as many different rugby experiences as I can.

“I’m 30 now so probably reaching my peak as a front-row forward and if I can get the best out of myself, which will mean helping Old Glory succeed in MLR, then the longer-term plan is to bring that back to Scotland and get into coaching.”

Longwell’s peripatetic career started out with Hillhead Jordanhill in the West End of Glasgow, and then involved stints with West of Scotland, Dundee High and playing Shute Shield for Eastern Suburbs in Australia – but it was after he joined Ayr in 2015 and anchored the teams which won the Premiership in 2017 and the Premiership and Cup double in 2019 that the potential to earn a living from the game really began to dawn on him.

During that period, he picked up five caps for the Scotland Club XV, trained with Glasgow Warriors, and had trials with Doncaster Knights and Sale Sharks. No contracts were forthcoming but the experiences reinforced his belief that he could cut it in the pro game if given the chance. So, instead of joining Ayrshire Bulls in the part-time Super6 league which was launched in Scotland last Autumn, he and his agent decided to look further afield

“Verona had been a Top 12 team when I signed, and although they were relegated at the end of that season, I was happy to stick it out and try to help them bounce right back,” he explained. “We trained four days a week and played on the weekend so it was close to full-time, and the standard at the top of the league was about equivalent to the old Premiership [pre Super6], so it wasn’t quite where I wanted to be but I probably would have stuck around if we had been promoted, which we were on course to do.

“But then the league season was declared null and void due to coronavirus and I don’t think it would have been beneficial to me as a player to stay for another year, so it was then a case of asking around to find out where there might be another opportunity.

“We were aware that there was a couple of new franchises launching in Major League Rugby who were looking for players, so that’s what turned us towards America. I got in touch with Jake Turnbull [an old pal from his Shute Shield days], who played last season at Old Glory, and he mentioned that they were looking for a tight-head, and it went from there, really.

“The initial contact was through Andy Douglas, the head coach, and a couple of weeks later I was offered the contract. It is a two-year deal as a full-time professional, which is fantastic because it will give me a chance to really work on developing my rugby.”