From England Under-15 to Scotland's Number 15

Dashing full-back was once Sassenach cricket international
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The Independent Online

Given the fact that Scotland have leaked an average of 38 points in their past five meetings with England, it would be tempting to suggest that one qualification for being their last line of defence might be a famil-iarity with the management of cricket scores.

It just so happens that Hugo Southwell, the adopted Scot who will be lining up at full-back against Andy Robinson's Grand Slam seekers at Murray-field next Saturday, is a sporting product of Sussex County Cricket Club. It has been well documented north of the border that the Edinburgh Gunner played in one first-team match for his boyhood home county - scoring a duck but taking three wickets in a one-day game against Gloucestershire - before turning to a university education, then rugby, and moving to the land of his maternal grandmother. What is not widely known is that Scotland's No 15 has actually played for England as a cricketer.

"I was much younger," South-well said dismissively, sitting on a bench in the players' tunnel at Murrayfield. "I played for England Under-15s at the Sunbury Festival. Graham Napier was in the side. He's at Essex now. There were some pretty good names, guys who have gone on to do very well, and good luck to them."

It was Southwell's - and, indeed, Scotland's - good fortune that, after graduating from university in Bristol with a degree in business studies and psychology, he crossed paths with Craig Chalmers at Worcester. It was Chalmers, the outside-half in the Scotland team who strolled out of the Murrayfield tunnel to beat England in the Grand Slam decider of 1990, who prompted the London-born, Eastbourne-raised and educated Southwell to move north of the border and make use of his Scottish heritage.

"I'd been based down south all of my life and Craig said to me, 'Have you ever thought about going up to Scotland?' " Southwell recalled. "He got in touch with a few coaches up here. Glasgow didn't need a full-back at the time but Edinburgh needed someone to back up Derrick Lee, so Frank [Hadden] took me on trial, and from that day on it's proved a massive success. I'm very, very glad I came."

Hadden, no doubt, is very, very glad too. As coach of Edinburgh and now Scotland, he has helped the one-time England Under-15 cricketer develop into a 25-year-old Scottish full-back with more than a touch of the swashbuckling Gavin Hastings about him. He might not be the finished article just yet, but the 6ft 2in, 14st 13lb Southwell does a fine line in crunching tackles (as the seriously shunted Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuquiri discovered when he made his first start for Scotland against the Wallabies in the Telstra Dome two years ago) and in bursting through the opposition ranks.

The try he scored in Scotland's 28-18 defeat against Wales at the Millennium Stadium last Sunday was his fifth in 18 Tests, an identical record to that of the blond left-wing bombshell Sean Lamont.

"It's quite funny," Southwell reflected. "Myself and Sean got capped at exactly the same time, as replacements against Samoa in Wellington in 2004, and ever since then we've had a bit of a laugh about what tries we're on. Against France he scored two and jumped one ahead of me, and then in Cardiff it was his dive for the line that sucked in four or five defenders and created a space for me to score. Yeah, it's good to be involved and on the scoresheet, but it's more important that we are winning games."

After launching their Six Nations campaign with that stunning 20-16 win over the French at Murrayfield a fortnight ago, losing the red-carded Scott Murray proved too great a handicap for Southwell and the rest of the Scotland team against Wales last Sunday. Still, having made a marked improvement under Hadden this season, they will line up against England looking to hit another of the championship's big hitters for six, and record only their second victory against the Red Rose brigade since that Grand Slam clincher in 1990.They certainly will not be fearing a cricket score.

"Oh, it's a massive game," Southwell, an England rugby supporter in his schoolboy days, ventured. "England are going great guns in the championship. They've won their first two games, but I think we've seen what can be done if you put England under pressure. It's just a question of doing it for 80 minutes.

"England have got a big, strong pack, and they have got a bench they can bring on who are equally as powerful and equally as quick. For 80 minutes we have got to produce a performance to match them. If we can do that, then there is no reason why we need to fear them. I mean, we have already beaten the French here. But it's going to be a tough, tough battle."