JUST eight months ago, Scott Steele was without a club and having to contemplate the possibility that his career as a professional rugby player was over. Now he is a four times capped internationalist, and current possessor of the Scotland No9 jersey, after scoring a try on his first start in the dark blue jersey on Saturday afternoon.  

It has been quite some turnaround for the scrum-half, but the 27-year-old from Dumfries has no immediate plans to slow down and savour the moment. With a season-defining clash against France coming up on Friday night, Steele wasted no time putting Saturday’s 52-10 hammering of Italy into context, as he and his team began to think about where they must improve in order to claim a first win in Paris since 1999. 

“Italy actually stretched us at times, which was good because we could test ourselves,” he claimed. “We also spoke after the game about the fact that it wasn’t perfect – but we managed to reset and move on to the next jobs. So, there will be things we can use from that game as we head towards the France match.  

“We’re all aware of the challenge we’re facing in Paris,” he added. “France are going to be tough, a real physical team who have been playing some great rugby. It’s something we’re obviously looking forward to as a squad.  Right now, the priority is to get the bodies right so we can go out there and have a real crack at it.” 

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Steele – who is a former Scotland Under-17s, 18s and 20s cap – started out in the pro game as an academy player at Leicester Tigers, and then spent six seasons with London Irish before being one of nine players released by the club last July. Harlequins offered him a lifeline ahead of the start of the current season, and his form for the Stoop outfit – competing against Danny Care and Martin Landajo for game time – quickly brought him to the attention of Gregor Townsend and his coaching team. 

He was called up by Scotland for the first time last Autumn and made his debut off the bench as emergency cover on the wing in late October, helping the team managed to its first win in Wales since 2002. His second cap was as a replacement in his usual scrum-half berth when Scotland picked up their first win over England at Twickenham since 1983 last month. His third cap was off the bench as an emergency back-row when Scotland lost to Ireland eight days ago. While his fourth cap – and first start – was on Saturday, when he scored the team’s sixth try as Townsend’s men claimed their biggest win in championship history. 

It has been an eventful international journey so far, and Steele is very conscious that he now has the chance to be part of another historic moment if the team can pick up their first win away to Les Bleus in 22 years. A win by six points or more, whilst matching the number of bonus points France pick-up, would also see Scotalnd achieve their highest championship finish of the Six nations era. 

“It would be massive, again, to go and get our first win in Paris since ’99,” he agrees. “It would show that we can back up the performance against Italy, so that’s what we’re aiming for, although we know it’s not going to be easy because it’s been a long time since we’ve won over there. It would be great if we could go over and do that.” 

Steele was one of several English-based players in the Scotland squad who did not know until Saturday night whether or not they would be released by the club for the trip to Paris. He says that it is a relief that a compensation package for the PRL – the umbrella body which represents England’s top ranked clubs – has now been agreed but insists that it did not weight heavily on his mind during the build-up to the Italian match. 

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“Obviously, you only worry about the game that’s in front of you,” he insisted. “So, for all the guys in that bracket, we just worried about playing Italy and hoped it would work itself out. I don’t know the details but hopefully we’re all good to go now – and can stick our hands up for selection against France.” 

Steele made a pretty good case on Saturday for his retention in the starting XV next week, but Ali Price provided a big impact off the bench, too, with his scintillating break from deep setting up Duhan van der Merwe’s second try. Whichever way it goes, you can count on Steele embracing the opportunity as either a starter or a sub.