Going the extra mile, humble and driven: Insight into Harry Paterson - one of Scotland's rising stars

Harry Paterson in full flow against France
©Bryan Robertson Photography

Occasionally in sport, we hear about players who ‘look comfortable every time they move up a level’ and pundits talk about them ‘taking everything in their stride’.

Those statements certainly seem to apply to 22-year-old Edinburgh Rugby back three man Harry Paterson who, after only graduating from the club’s academy and signing a professional deal last March, was flung into the international rugby scene a fortnight ago.

Not all Scotland supporters had even heard of him when he was called into the wider squad for training ahead of the Guinness Men’s Six Nations, but head coach Gregor Townsend spoke very highly of Paterson and, come February 10, he had no hesitation in giving him a Murrayfield debut against France.

It was only at breakfast that morning that Paterson found out he was to be starting at full-back after Kyle Steyn’s wife went into labour which made him unavailable.

Paterson put in an impressive display against Les Bleus but the emerging talent will have to wait for his next international cap with Blair Kinghorn returning to the Scotland side for Saturday's Calcutta Cup meeting with England.

Elsewhere, the aforementioned Steyn steps in for Kyle Rowe on the right wing meaning there isn't a spot in the 23 for Paterson but despite defeat against France, the day itself won't be removed from his memory any time soon.

And that breakfast where he did find out he would be involved in Scotland's most recent Six Nations match will certainly be something he will never forget - “I was halfway through eating it when Gregor called me, I didn’t really eat much after that”, he said - and there are plenty of other breakfast times that have helped him get to where he is today.

"Harry used to be out practising his kicking before breakfast when he was at school, he just always wanted to learn and get better and he always went the extra mile to keep improving his rugby," Duncan Harrison, the head of rugby at Fettes College in Edinburgh, told TRU about Paterson’s schooldays.

"Even though he was one of our best rugby players during his time at the school - in fact, he was one of our best sportsmen as he was very good at cricket and hockey too - he was never one for the limelight or the glamour, he simply wanted to make the most of his abilities.

"As a coach, sometimes you just know that you have a talent on your hands and that was clear with Harry from an early age. He was good enough to play for the first XV at school for three years. In the first of those he was too young, but in the next two, he made a real impact.

"Everything he did out on the field looked so effortless to those watching on, but I knew how much work he was putting in behind the scenes to get himself up to that level.

"As I say he used to sometimes be out kicking before school would even start and he used to really work and work on the basics so that, come game day, everything would slot into place and he’d be ready to go.

"He is such a grounded guy and I think that served him well during the last few years when he was part of the Edinburgh academy and had to deal with the pandemic and a few injuries and things like that. He will often come back into the school off his own back to help coach the current pupils and you just can’t buy the kind of attitude that he has got.”

'We were all sending WhatsApp messages and couldn’t believe it’

When the morning of February 10 arrived, Paterson was not even in the Scotland matchday 23, but soon messages were flying around Edinburgh and the wider Scottish rugby community that his big chance may have arrived.

“A few people got in touch with me that morning and it began to sound like Harry was going to be starting versus France,” Harrison continued.

“We were all sending WhatsApp messages and couldn’t believe it! It only seemed like yesterday that he had been playing for the school team.

"I watched the game on television and I was so proud of how he dealt with the nerves and the first few minutes. Then to have an involvement in Ben White’s try was excellent and, although Scotland lost in the end, it was a pleasure to watch him.

"He has a big future ahead of him and I - and everyone else at the school - is very proud of what he is doing.”

Helen Harrison, the head of Fettes College, backed that up by saying: “We are so incredibly proud of Harry. It was wonderful to see his performance and professionalism at Murrayfield, what a brilliant debut. Harry is a true inspiration for all our students and for Scotland as a whole.”

‘He read the game incredibly well - even as a 17-year-old!’

Paterson, who has played Super6/Series rugby for Heriot’s and Watsonians in recent times, saw his love of the sport begin when he was a pupil at the Edinburgh Academy junior school.

He then moved to Fettes and, in senior school, began to play for the school team while also turning out for the BATS - a link-up between Broughton, Accies and Trinity which sees teams run from under-13 to under-18 levels.

A shift from stand-off to full-back came when he was around 15 and, in his final year at school in 2018/19, he broke through into senior rugby with the Edinburgh Accies club when he was just 17.

Already on his Scotland age-grade journey by then, he made his Accies’ first XV debut in the Premiership against Stirling County in late 2018.

Derek O’Riordan, now the Musselburgh head coach who was the head coach at Accies at that time, said: "We can’t take too much credit for Harry's development given he arrived to us through Fettes, but what we did do was afford him the freedom to find his feet in senior rugby as a schoolboy in the Premiership.

"We had his brother Jack in the environment at the time who was a powerful, ball-carrying winger and Harry was more subtle and balanced in terms of his attack and read the game incredibly well from full-back - even as a 17-year-old! 

"So, while I can't claim to have played a significant role in his development, I couldn't help but be really pleased and proud for him and his family when he made his Scotland debut recently.

"It was also lovely to see the things that made him special back in 2018 are still there, particularly his temperament and his maturity. Hopefully, that was the first of many caps for Harry and he can kick on from here.”

As mentioned, time with BATS Rugby helped Paterson along the way and Iain Berthinussen from that programme said: “We are immensely proud of Harry receiving his first Scotland cap versus France earlier this month.

“If I am honest, I am not surprised with how well Harry handled the selection and circumstance surrounding it. Coming through BATS Rugby and having made his debut for Edinburgh Accies whilst in his final year at Fettes College at the age of 17, he always showed a desire to play at the highest level possible and is very driven.”

And that drive - plus the many other attributes that have been highlighted - means it is likely we will see Paterson back on the international stage in the not-too-distant future.

Scotland team to face England: Kinghorn, Steyn, Jones, Tuipulotu, Van der Merwe, Russell (co-capt), White; Schoeman, Turner, Fagerson, Gilchrist, Cummings, Ritchie, Darge (co-capt), Dempsey.

Replacements: Ashman, Hepburn, Skinner, Christie, Horne, Healy, Redpath.