St Andrews is known around the world as the ‘Home of Golf’, but for now, it could be known as the ‘Home of Scottish Rugby Captains’.
That is because, just days after Jamie Ritchie was named captain of the full Scotland squad for this summer’s programme, Alex Samuel was given the honour of leading his country into the under-20 Six Nations which takes place later this month and into July.
Ritchie, the 24-year-old Edinburgh Rugby back-row, grew up in Strathkinness near St Andrews and started his rugby journey at Madras Rugby Club in the Madrascals junior section.
And Samuel, an 18-year-old second-row who is now aligned to Super6 side Stirling County and trains with Glasgow Warriors full-time, is from the Fife town and played all the way through from the Madrascals to under-18s.
“It is amazing for Madras Rugby Club and all of the volunteers who are involved to see Jamie and now Alex doing so well means we are all delighted,” Ed Dunstan, who coached Samuel from 2015 to 2019, told TRU.
“We cannot wait to watch Alex doing his thing for the under-20s in the next few weeks and for him to be made captain of the team at 18 is a great honour. We are very proud of him.
“I coached Alex from the under-15s to the under-18s. He was playing a year up because of his size and physical attributes and we had a great set of boys.
The latest young player invited to train with the @Scotlandteam squad for experience is second-row Alex Samuel - he has progressed through in St Andrews with @RugbyMadras and @StLeonards_Head and the age-grade cap is now aligned to @StirlingCounty and @GlasgowWarriors— Gary Heatly (@G_HMedia) March 15, 2021
“We went on a tour to Spain when they were under-16s and a tour to Italy when they were under-18s and Alex went on both of those trips helping in his development as a player, a team member and a leader. We also hosted touring teams from Argentina and Australia.
“Alex was always a great talent and although he was a big lad, we never believed in route one rugby at Madras and we encouraged the boys to play a quick, fast, expansive game with players identifying space and getting quick offloads away if they could.
“We worked hard on their ball-handling skills and I think that really helped Alex because for a big unit, he has some of the best hands I have seen and people who watch the Scotland under-20 matches during the Six Nations will see not just a player who can mix it, but also someone who is comfortable in open field play.
“Alex works so hard at his game and even when he was training and playing for Caledonia under-16s and 18s and the national team at the same levels, he never came back to Madras with a big head. He just got back involved as one of the boys and tried to help the others around him get better.
“He is a lovely guy and I have no doubt he is going to go on and have a very good rugby career.”
Due to the pandemic, Samuel has not played much senior rugby but he has been with Glasgow all season and he also got a taste of full Scotland training during the main Six Nations in February and March as one of several ‘apprentices’ Gregor Townsend wanted to take a look at.
“It was a really good opportunity being in with the main squad," the teenager states. "I guess it would not have happened in normal times, but I just got in there and tried to soak up as much information as I could and learnt from the best. I then tried to bring what I had learnt back into this 20s environment to push the standards up.
“There were quite a few 20s boys brought in to train with the main squad, so it is up to us to keep pushing the levels up within our own age group.
It's podcast time! ???— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) June 3, 2021
This week, Scotland Interim Head Coach Mike Blair talks us through his summer training squad selections and new Under-20 captain Alex Samuel previews the upcoming U20 Six Nations Championship.
Listen here. ??
“When Sean asked me to be captain, I was reasonably surprised. I thought it might be one of the older boys, but at the same time, I was buzzing for the opportunity.
"The captaincy is reasonably new to me. I have not done loads of captaincy before, but in all the sort of age-grade and representative teams I have played for, I have always been a leader in those groups. I have just not had the official title.
“I started playing at Madras Rugby Club when I was in primary school and there is a really good set-up down there with lots of volunteers who coach. I have always kind of been a second-row. In first year, second year, third year at school, I played a bit in the backs at 10 and a bit of 12, but I was always going to end up in the second-row as I have always been so tall!
“When we were younger at Madras, like in the under-12s and under-14s, everyone was talking about Jamie Ritchie and obviously the Howe of Fife boys like Pete Horne, George Horne and Chris Fusaro so to be a captain at the same time as Jamie is pretty cool.”
The delayed under-20s event is being held solely in Cardiff, at the Arms Park, from June 19 to July 13 and Scotland head coach Sean Lineen named his 32-man squad for the tournament last week.
And with every match set to be broadcast in each of the Six Nations territories either on terrestrial TV, national broadcaster streaming platforms or via Six Nations digital channels, Lineen is urging this group to put their hand up and make their mark.
He believes Samuel can lead by example and said: “Alex is a top young man. I’ve been really impressed with his attitude.
“I’m not going to pump up his tyres too much, but we’ve got a really good partnership there with young Max Williamson in the second-row. We’ve lost Jamie Campbell who was the senior lock to injury so these lads have another year at under-20 level after this one and this is a really good opportunity to shape them both.
“They are on senior academy contracts with Glasgow already and I know [Warriors head coach] Danny Wilson has been impressed by both of them.
“I’m expecting big things from Alex and it looks like he has taken the captaincy in his stride at the moment.”
Lineen also revealed that former under-20 skippers Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings and Jamie Ritchie had been in touch with Samuel and had “a good chat”.
Scotland will play the opening fixture of the championship against Ireland on June 19 (kick-off 2pm) followed by games against England on June 25 (kick-off 2pm), Italy on July 1 (kick-off 2pm) and France on July 7 (kick-off 5pm).
They will finish against Wales on July 13 (8pm).
Jamie Drummond* (Ayrshire Bulls)
Patrick Harrison* (Southern Knights/Edinburgh Rugby)
Duncan Hood* (Heriot’s Blues)
Tom Banatvala (Durham University)
Michael Jones* (Boroughmuir Bears)
Corey Bowker (Leeds Beckett University)
George Breese* (Stirling Wolves)
Olly Frostick (Ealing Trailfinders)
Cole Lamberton* (Watsonians Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby)
Alex Samuel* (Stirling County/Glasgow Warriors, C)
Max Williamson* (Stirling County/Glasgow Warriors)
Euan Ferrie (Glasgow Hawks)
Harri Morris (Southern Knights)
Rhys Tait (Southern Knights)
Ollie Leatherbarrow (Exeter University)
Rory Jackson* (Ayrshire Bulls/Glasgow Warriors)
Ben Muncaster* (Watsonians Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby)
Archie Smeaton (Cambridge University)
Ethan McVicker (Melrose Rugby)
Murray Redpath (Newcastle University)
Cameron Scott* (Southern Knights/Edinburgh Rugby)
Euan Cunningham* (Stirling County/Glasgow Warriors)
Christian Townsend* (Ayrshire Bulls)
Thomas Glendinning* (Glasgow Hawks)
Scott King* (Heriot’s Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby)
Michael Gray* (Boroughmuir Bears/Glasgow Warriors)
Elliot Gourlay (Sale Sharks)
Finlay Callaghan* (Ayrshire Bulls/Glasgow Warriors)
Adam Scott* (GHA)
Ollie Melville* (Boroughmuir Bears/Glasgow Warriors)
Harry Paterson* (Heriot’s Rugby/Edinburgh Rugby)
Ross McKnight* (Stirling County)
*FOSROC Academy supported player within Scottish Rugby