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Rowe relishing upcoming opportunity as he works towards Test berth

By Bryn Palmer
Galway , Ireland - 28 October 2023; Kyle Rowe of Glasgow Warriors during the United Rugby Championship match between Connacht and Glasgow Warriors at The Sportsground in Galway. (Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

After a rollercoaster year which began in rugby rehab and renewed acquaintance with redundancy in early summer, recent months have brought a restorative return to normality for Kyle Rowe.


As he prepares to sign off on 2023, opportunity knocks anew for the winger who Glasgow Warriors rescued from the rubble of London Irish’s financial collapse, just as he was putting himself back together again after the trauma of his Scotland debut being ruined by a torn ACL.

Four tries in eight starts for his new club, the latest in last Friday’s URC win over Edinburgh at Scotstoun, have propelled him back into national consideration nearly 18 months after his one and only cap – against Argentina in Salta – ended just 12 minutes after coming on as a replacement.


With Glasgow team-mate Ollie Smith sidelined for the rest of the season with his own ruptured knee ligaments and Warriors captain Kyle Steyn in a race to be fit for the Six Nations after ankle surgery, there is at least one vacancy waiting to be filled in Gregor Townsend’s back-three department.

Rowe previously made Townsend’s training squad for the 2022 tournament, midway through a breakthrough season where he scored 10 tries for Irish in the English Premiership.

That followed a short-term spell at Edinburgh, where he resurfaced after a previous Scotland sevens contract was curtailed by the Covid pandemic and he was forced into alternative employment working night shifts in an Amazon warehouse.

So if Rowe doesn’t receive a call from Townsend as the Scotland head coach prepares to announce a training squad in mid-January, the experiences of the past few years have steeled the 25-year-old for any potential disappointment.


“With the stuff that I’ve been through, with rugby taken away from me through no fault of my own, it’s made me a lot more resilient,” he said. “If I do face setbacks in rugby, I know it’s not the end of the world as I’m still in the professional set-up and it stands me in good stead.

“If I am not playing well, or I am not getting picked, I know it’s not going to affect me massively – I just need to keep working hard at training and try to get picked again.

“Of course, it’s always an ambition to play for your country. With me only having one cap, I don’t want to just stop there. I want to play for Scotland as many times as possible.

“When I made my debut over in Argentina, it was in the forefront of my mind to try and get a game at Murrayfield, but I did my ACL and that never happened. This season it’s been about finding good form and you never know what might happen.


“I just want to go out and do my thing and if I get picked for the Six Nations, great. If I don’t, I’ll be at Glasgow hopefully playing week in and week out and just trying to stay in good form here. Going up against the two starting Scotland wingers is a big opportunity for me.”

Saturday’s return fixture against Edinburgh at Murrayfield – which doubles as the second leg of their annual 1872 Cup contest – will again see Rowe come into direct competition with Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe, who when fit have generally filled the number 14 and 11 shirts for Scotland over the past couple of years.


Steyn has shown himself to be a more than capable deputy for either with 10 tries in 15 Tests, but with only two games in January – Glasgow’s remaining Champions Cup pool games against Exeter and Toulon – to prove his fitness before the Six Nations, time is against the Warriors captain.

Rowe’s ability to play full-back, where Stuart Hogg’s retirement and Smith’s untimely injury have left Blair Kinghorn as the only specialist option, may work in his favour as Townsend assesses his options.

“I’ve played there a few times so it wouldn’t be a shock to the system,” he said. “It would be just getting comfortable again with those 15 positions in both defence and attack.”

That adaptability has served Rowe well since his agent called in mid-2021 to tell him London Irish were looking for a back-up back-three player.

“I basically said I would take anything at that point, because I didn’t have anything past that summer when I was in training with Edinburgh,” he recalled.

“I think it was good to get out of my comfort zone in Scotland, where you know everybody.

“Everything came off the back of me leaving family and everything, and just taking a shot in the dark really because I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. Going down to London, it is such a big place and I didn’t know anyone so it was quite a shock to the system at the time, but it has definitely made me a better player and a better person.

“Coming back to Glasgow, my main focus was to hit the ground running in pre-season and fortunately I’ve been able to find good form and play a decent bit of rugby.”

Saturday will be the first time Rowe has played at the national stadium since scoring a try to help Ayr pip Heriot’s in the Scottish Cup final in 2019 alongside current Warriors team-mates Stafford McDowall and Smith, a week after his brace of tries in a league decider against the same opposition.

“That’s one of the only times that I’ve played at Murrayfield, so it has good memories,” he said. “We won the league the week before then completed the double with the cup. It was a pretty special week for me and Ayr as a club.”

If Glasgow can repeat their storming of Murrayfield at this time last year, when a stunning second-half display saw them run out 32-25 winners, a second successive double over their inter-city rivals would cap a similarly special week for Rowe and Warriors.

“It’s one of the oldest cups in the world so it’s a big thing for both clubs to play for,” he added. “And with it coming just before the Six Nations, there’s always going to be that competition against your opposite number for those Scotland places. We don’t get too pumped up during the week but when Saturday comes, that’s when you get all your emotion out.”


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