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McLean takes to Test rugby like a duck to water

McLean takes to Test rugby like a duck to water

Rufus McLean

Anyone who saw Rufus McLean’s wonder try in just his sixth appearance as a pro will have known just why there is so much excitement about the young Scotland winger.

At Principality Stadium, the 21-year-old turned scrappy lineout ball into a try of the season contender as he raced from his own 22 for a stunning solo score, leaving a host of defenders trailing in his wake.

That came in a Guinness PRO14 clash between the Dragons and Glasgow Warriors, and he has only built on that form with the Scottish side.

International recognition was inevitable and he was even called up to train with Scotland during the 2021 Guinness Six Nations to get a taste of the set-up. After Covid put paid to a debut in the summer when Scotland’s tour was called off, it was instead at BT Murrayfield, welcoming back fans for the first time, that McLean got his chance.

He took it with both hands, seemingly playing at a different speed to everyone else and taking just seven minutes to break his Test duck in the 60-14 win over Tonga.

When a ball came back off the head of Jamie Ritchie and then rebounded off a Tongan defender, McLean was fastest to react, scooping it up on the 22, and then scything through, showing great balance to shrug off the tackle of Tane Takulua for the try.

That McLean was the only person to react is to his credit and he followed it up soon after with an even better try. Off first phase ball, Scotland quickly spread the ball from a lineout and Blair Kinghorn’s wide pass gave McLean a one-on-one with full-back James Faiva on the left wing.

In those situations, it is clear that the Boston-born winger is virtually unstoppable. He stepped Faiva as if he was not even there and sprinted home for his second.

His best moment of the match might not even have come in scoring a try. At the end of the first half, Scotland had penalty advantage in their own 22 and decided to make the most of it by running the ball out. A loose pass came to McLean who again showed that devastating step and sprinted clear. Realising that there was cover defence that would stop him going all the way, he kept the ball alive by finding Darcy Graham and with the Scots pouring forward in attack, it was eventually Kyle Steyn who went over in the opposite corner.

McLean’s performance was simply a continuation of his club form at Glasgow, he is second in the United Rugby Championship for clean breaks and metres gained and joint third – with international colleague Graham – for defenders beaten.

On Saturday he racked up 132 metres with ball in hand, the most of any Scot, and broke six tackles. But for Steyn’s four tries, McLean could easily have added a Player of the Match award to his collection as well.

Like fellow Scotland debutant Jamie Dobie, who came on in the second half, McLean is combining his rugby with studies, the pair are both enrolled at the University of Strathclyde where McLean is studying Spanish and marketing.

But it is on the field that he is making waves, having previously represented Scotland through the age group levels.

Gregor Townsend has a big call to make against Australia in the next Autumn Nations Series encounter with Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe, a pair of British & Irish Lions, available to come into the back three. With McLean, Steyn and Graham all firing against Tonga, trying to work out who deserves to start will not be easy.

What is sure though, is that at just 21, McLean already looks to the manor born at Test level and as and when he gets another opportunity, opposition defence coaches will have to plan for his threat.

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