Electric McLean is ready for life in the fast lane with Scotland

Rufus McLean in action for Merchiston Castle School
©Merchiston Castle School

For those of us of a certain vintage, the news that Rufus McLean will become the first male player born in the year 2000 or since then to earn a full Scotland cap this Saturday is both frustrating and exciting in equal measure.

Frustrating because it means we are all getting older - when winger McLean was born in March 2000, your correspondent was just about to leave school for example - but exciting because it shows the next generation of talent coming through in Scottish rugby.

Twenty-one-year-old McLean looks set to be the youngest player to have played for his country for a short period as his Glasgow Warriors’ teammate, Jamie Dobie, will likely come off the bench against Tonga in the Autumn Nations Series opener at BT Murrayfield.

Then Dobie, the 20-year-old scrum-half born in June 2001, will take up the mantle, but McLean will not be bothered. On the contrary, he will be delighted to be on the same international pitch as someone who was a year below him at Merchiston Castle School and who he has grown up with.

Having been born in Boston in the USA, where his father Andrew was working at the time, McLean’s family returned to these shores when he was a baby.

He grew up in the famous Borders rugby playing town of Melrose and started his rugby journey there in the mini section.

However at that time, tennis was his ‘go to’ sport and it was thanks to his work with a racket in his hand that he earned a place at the Merchiston tennis academy at the school based in Edinburgh.

By his mid-teens, he was trying to juggle both sports, but it became clear that he would have to focus on one so with his natural pace and eye for a gap, he chose rugby.

In his final year at Merchiston in 2017/18, he co-captained the first XV with Tyler Thomas and the playing group contained the likes of Dobie, Matt Currie and Dan Gamble who are all now in professional environments.

McLean: He was always a natural rugby player with ball in hand

At the start of that school year, he starred for the first XV from full-back at the prestigious St Joseph’s College Rugby Festival in Ipswich, so what has his school coach made of his journey since then to an international cap?

“It has been great to see his development in recent years since he left school and I can’t wait to see him playing internationally,” Merchiston’s Director of Rugby Roddy Deans told TRU.

Rufus was always fast right from his early days at the school and it soon became clear that he was a natural rugby player with ball in hand.

“We tended to play him at 15 and we often used him as a first receiver in attack too because he was so comfortable on the ball and had good distribution skills.

“He always liked to have time on the ball. He wouldn’t wait for the ball to come to him and from an early age, he was a skilful and intelligent rugby player.

“When he was playing at 15, if teams kicked to him in space, they soon learnt not to do it again because he would run it back to them at pace and was often untouchable once he was on the front foot.

“He came into our strength & conditioning programme at school a bit later than some of the other boys because he was quite slight, but in his last couple of years, he and staff member Iain Noble worked really well together and he quickly started to see the benefits of that.

“Although people obviously focus on his attack, he is a very good defender for his size and in his last two years with us, he just got better and better.”

Already in the Scotland age-grade teams and a member of the Scottish Rugby Academy set-up by the time he left school, McLean had stints with Watsonians in the Tennent’s Premiership and then Boroughmuir Bears in the FOSROC Super6.

His form with the national under-20s side then saw Glasgow hand him a full-time contract in the summer of 2020.

McLean, who has also tied in studies at the University of Strathclyde, is now a regular starter for the Warriors and Deans adds: “You can see that over the last couple of years he has put a lot of work into his strength & conditioning and the mixture of speed and power and strength that he has is always going to cause defences problems, even at the top level.

“He has really come on in the last year or so and he is so electric when he gets the ball. Whether he gets it in lots of space or not, he seems to be able to find space and then either create something for his team or go on and make yards himself.

Dobie: “He can turn the game on its head in the blink of an eye”

Deans will be a proud man when McLean starts the match against Tonga and his smile will be even wider if Dobie, who began his rugby life with the Highland club in Inverness, comes off the bench.

The impish number nine, also a good tennis player growing up, was the first schoolboy in the whole of Scotland to sign straight into the pro game since Jamie Ritchie in 2014 when he joined the Warriors in 2019.

“Jamie has had to bide his time behind Ali Price and George Horne at Glasgow, but he has shown his quality for one so young whenever he has got onto the pitch for them and it is good to see him getting a chance with Scotland,” Deans explains.

He can turn the game on its head in the blink of an eye. He can make a break out of nothing and, like Rufus, he is a guy that is deceptively strong.

“On the face of it, he looks quite small and easy to tackle, but he is more powerful than some of the big guys he comes up against think.

“He is a terrier type of nine, he loves having the ball in his hands, but he also never tires of defending and all good players are happy to do all parts of the game and, crucially, do them all well which Jamie can.”

Scotland squad to face Tonga: Darcy GrahamKyle SteynSione Tuipulotu, Sam JohnsonRufus McLeanBlair Kinghorn, Ali Price (C-C); Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jamie Hodgson, Rob Harley, Jamie Ritchie (C-C), Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson. Subs: Stuart McInallyJamie Bhatti, Oli Kebble, Marshall Sykes, Luke Crosbie, Nick Haining, Jamie Dobie, Ross Thompson.

Scotland take on Tonga at BT Murrayfield in the Autumn Nations Series on Saturday with a 2.30pm kick-off, the game is live on Amazon Prime.