AS we approach the end of a generally frustrating season for Scottish pro rugby, one of the few silver-linings we can take from the experience is the emergence of a cohort of talented youngsters at Glasgow Warriors who have snatched the opportunity to demonstrate that they’ve got what it takes to not only survive but thrive at that level. 

20-year-old loose-head prop Tom Lambert was rewarded on Friday for his impressive performances since making his debut off the bench against Benetton in late April by being promoted from an academy to a full-time contract for next season, following in the footsteps of 22-year-old stand-off Ross Thompson and 20-year-old full-back Ollie Smith, who signed their first senior deals back in February. 

Like Australian-born Lambert, Cole Forbes – a 21-year-old full-back/winger initially from Pukekohe in New Zealand who signed for Warriors on ‘multi-year’ deal in late February – didn’t come through the Scottish system but qualifies to wear the thistle through a grandparent from these parts. 

Meanwhile, 21-year-old winger Rufus McLean recently signed a contract extension with the club, having initially been recruited on a full-time deal last summer.  

21-year-old flanker Rory Darge managed only one appearance for Edinburgh off the bench before making a mid-season switch to Warriors in March and was singled out for praise by head coach Danny Wilson following an all-action display against his old club in his first professional start two weekends. 

It is a great shame that 19-year-old Gregor Brown injured his knee just five minutes into his first start for the club against Benetton back in early March, because the 6ft 3ins back-row had looked the part when making his debut off the bench against Leinster the previous week. 

Scrum-half Jamie Dobie is less than a month older than Brown, and younger than the rest of the Warriors players listed in this article, but is comfortably the most experienced, having made 19 appearances since joining the club on a senior deal straight from school back in the summer of 2019. 

Over in the east, stand-offs Nathan Chamberlain and Charlie Savala, winger Jack Blain, flanker Connor Boyle, second-row Marshall Sykes (all 21), Matt Currie, scrum-half Roan Frostwick, tight-head prop Dan Gamble (all 20), No8 Ben Muncaster (19) and hooker Patrick Harrison (18) have all had valuable game time this season. 

However, before we get too carried away talking about the Scottish talent conveyer belt, we must recognise that productivity in this country continues to lag well behind our Celtic cousins. As it stands, the four Irish provinces have promoted a total of 62 players to senior contracts from their academies during the last three seasons, while the four Welsh regions have promoted 38 players. Against that, Lambert became only the 12thScottish-based player to make the step up during the same period (that number will rise to 15 if Chamberlain, Muncaster and Gamble are given full-time deals at Edinburgh this summer as was promised last May). 

Fundamentally, it’s a numbers game, and Scotland’s inability to produce enough homegrown players to populate two (not even four!) strong pro teams means that the national side is always going to be playing catch-up against nations such as Ireland and Wales, let alone the behemoths of England and France.  

There will be small peaks such as winning three matches this year to finish fourth (joint third) in the Six Nations table and getting eight players selected to tour with the Lions this summer, but as sure as night follows day there will be painful troughs like tumbling out of the World Cup at the group stage in 2019. Rather than looking to win the Six Nations, the mark of a good season will continue to be managing to finish in the top half of the table. 

Scotland’s struggles with producing players means there is an over-reliance on imported personnel. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having some diversity in our pro game. In fact, the value added to Glasgow Warriors by the likes of DTH van der Merwe, Niko Matawalu and Leone Nakarawa (during his first spell at the club) demonstrates why a sensible overseas recruitment policy should be actively encouraged.  The problem is the pre-occupation of filling gaps in our squads with journeymen who have failed to cut it elsewhere. It might be seen as easier and cheaper than developing internally but, really, it is a false economy. Second-rate imports clog up the system and don’t sufficiently raise the standard to help Scotland be competitive. 

Both Scottish pro teams have been forced by Covid-related factors to give youth its head this season. Now, with the purse strings loosened by private equity investment, a government bail-out and (hopefully) the return of fans next season, Wilson and Cockerill have been busy recruiting from around the globe in recent months. Let’s hope that doesn’t prevent the players listed above, and those coming in behind them, from getting further opportunities to develop.