Why I chose Scotland, by Bath Rugby's Tom Heathcote
Andy Robinson has stolen a march on England boss Stuart Lancaster by poaching Tom Heathcote from under his nose, believes Bath first-team coach Mike Ford.
Only four months ago, described 20-year-Heathcote as being “on the cusp” of the England Elite Player Squad and one of the young players who he was “really looking forward to seeing develop in the next 12 months and beyond”.
But on Monday, Robinson announced that Bath Rugby fly-half Heathcote had committed his international career to Scotland and had been drafted into the squad ahead of Saturday’s match with Tonga at Murrayfield. Yesterday he was named among the replacements.
“I’m very lucky to have this opportunity to represent Scotland, which I’m very excited to do,” said Heathcote.
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“I’ve lived in England for most of my life and went through the age groups, so it was an incredibly hard decision but in the end I think I made the one that was right for me and my family.
“I am very excited to be here and to crack on now that the decision has been made. The hard part is behind me and I can look forward to playing and being involved.”
Robinson, himself a former England and Bath head coach, courted Heathcote over the summer.
His capture is something of a coup given that Heathcote was playing age-grade rugby for England as recently as June at the Junior World Championships in South Africa.
Ford believes Inverness-born Heathcote’s decision to play for Scotland could open the door for a long career of international rugby.
“Stuart could have picked Tom for the Saxons but he didn’t and Andy Robinson has jumped in there,” said Ford, whose own son George is tipped in many quarters as an England fly-half of the future.
“Andy approached Tom over the summer about playing for Scotland and asked him to think it over. He told Tom that if he decided to play for Scotland he would have a good chance of making the match-day squad.
“Tom has taken the decision to be capped by Scotland and it is a great opportunity for him. He could end up playing for Scotland over the next ten years.
“He will have the chance to play against the best in the world and will come back to Bath a better player for it.”
Michael Claassens agrees that his Bath half-back partner was right to jump at the offer.
“I don’t think it was a surprise,” Claassens told the Chronicle.
“After Scotland’s match last weekend, a lot of the guys [at Bath] said Scotland should just chuck him into action straight away.
“He can play for Scotland now or he could have waited for England and maybe never got that chance.”
Claassens added: “Tom is very mature for his age. He stepped in last year at Bath and played so well. This season, due to injury, he hasn’t had that chance yet but if you see the way he trains and plays he is definitely going to play a lot of games for Scotland.”
Robinson, a former Bath player, admitted Heathcote had been on his radar even before he broke into the English club’s first team last season.
“Tom has worked his way into the Bath first-team squad from the Academy and we’ve been monitoring his progress for the last couple of years,” said the Scotland boss, who still lives in Bath.
Heathcote, who was brought up in Wiltshire and played for Salisbury, turned heads last season by consistently competing with New Zealand’s Stephen Donald for the Bath number ten shirt.