ALI Price is now so firmly established as a key player for Scotland that it is easy to forget how quickly he has risen through the ranks – and the part played in his irresistible ascent by Ayr and Stirling County.
The 24-year-old scrum-half has been with Glasgow Warriors, for whom he signed a new two-year contract last week, since 2013. But his real breakthrough came only in January of last year, when he was named as the starting scrum-half for the Champions Cup tie against Racing 92 in Paris. The Warriors lost that match, but learned a lot from the experience, as they proved the following season when they were again drawn against the French giants in Europe and won both home and away.
It was certainly a formative experience for Price, who explained on Monday that then Warriors coach Gregor Townsend had selected him for that game thanks to his fine form in the club game with Ayr. “We were in the changing room after the first Racing game away two seasons ago and we had got beat,” he recalled. “Gregor said they had been watching my performances for Ayr up until then and that was the reason I’d been given my shot.
“I’d been putting in performances in the Premiership and then it was down to me to try my best in the Champions Cup. He was really chuffed then, and that was a big boost for me. I knew I had that level in me.”
An injury while he was with Stirling had denied Price the chance to make an earlier impact, but he still looks back on his time at Bridgehaugh as an important experience. “I really enjoyed my time at Stirling as well. It was unfortunate that in the year I came up I was with them and I injured my knee and was out all season. I only got one season with them, but it was invaluable.
“It’s quite scary at how quick it all happened,” he continued, referring to his rise from the club ranks to the Warriors first team and now Scotland. “I tried to take every step in my stride and make it look natural even when it wasn’t and go out there and show that I was confident even if I was nervous. It’s gone from being just in the squad in Glasgow to where I am now.”
Price’s understanding with Finn Russell for both the Warriors and Scotland has been another undeniable ingredient of his success, but it is something he will have to learn to live without next season when the stand-off joins Racing. He will miss Russell as a friend off the pitch as well as a team-mate on it, but is sure that he will be able to keep maturing as a leader on his own.
“He’s one of the best tens on the planet. It’s going to be tough to replace him, but I’m sure it’s going to be done.
“There are lots of leaders in the team anyway. It is something I’ve been looking to develop anyway, my leadership on the pitch and as a half-back. If you have someone who is less experienced than you, the ten or not, I feel it would be my responsibility to look after them. I feel I could step up and take that role.
“We get on well, but he is going on to a good place and it is a good opportunity for him and I’m pleased for him. We will see a lot of each other, I’m sure we will go and visit each other. He’s not died! He’s just going over to France.”
If Glasgow’s hopes of reaching the Champions Cup quarter-finals are not to die before they go over to France next weekend, they will have to win the first round of their double-header against Montpellier at Scotstoun on Friday. Win it well, in fact. And then do the same things over there. And then beat Leinster and Exeter, the teams who have already beaten them in Pool 3.
Doing that is a very tall order, but Price is sure the team have the self-belief required to do it. “It’s massively there. There are a lot of boys coming back that have had good months away and they’re confident.
“The team’s been going well the last three games in the league. We’ve scored 40-odd points I think; we’ve got tries in us. Especially against a team like Montpellier, they’ve got a lot of big men so if I was them I’d be thinking they’re going to try to run us off our feet here. We’re an agile quick side and I think that’s a massive strength of ours, especially against a team of bigger men, so I definitely think it’s do-able.”
Former Scotland coach Vern Cotter is now in charge of Montpellier, while his Scotland assistants, Jason O’Halloran and Jonathan Humphreys, now work under Dave Rennie at Scotstoun. To an extent, then, Friday’s match could see both sets of coaches trying to second-guess each other, although Price believes that a team as physically powerful as Montpellier are obviously going to play to their principal strength.
“Jase and Jon Humphreys will obviously have their ideas as to how they think Vern’s going to approach it. It might be a case of trying to double-bluff each other and all the rest of it, so I think it’ll be quite interesting.
“There are general traits. They’ve got big men, we know that, the big wingers, they’re generally a big pack and they play that power game. Every team in France plays the one-out runners and try to smash you. Whether he’s playing us or Pau in the Top 14 I can’t see them drastically changing. There’ll be a few things – but then again we might have a few things, slightly different that they’ve not seen.
“It was a year ago now, the Georgia game he gave me my first chance, so it’ll be nice to see him. I’ve not seen him since the end of the Six Nations.”