Glasgow’s Fusaro eyes chance to impress Scotland chief Johnson
Chris Fusaro talks about trying to break into the Scotland squad, facing Heineken Cup champions Toulon, and his leadership style as a captain
Chris Fusaro hasn’t had the best of runs when it comes to the ultimate goal of donning the famous blue of Scotland at Murrayfield, but the Glasgow Warrior star’s fortunes may be about to change.
The 24-year-old open-side flanker is one of two uncapped players to be named in Scott Johnson’s training squad for this year’s Six Nations after the Aussie hailed him as “terrific” in the Warriors’ 15-10 win at Exeter in the Heineken Cup last week.
I was trying not to think about it [Scotland call-up] much
His call-up to the Scotland squad ahead of last year’s Six Nations ended prematurely through injury.
Fusaro’s chances of starting during the autumn internationals were increased through injuries to two other open-sides, but Johnson opted not to field him.
So it comes as no surprise that Wednesday’s announcement wasn’t at the forefront of Fusaro’s mind with reigning Heineken Cup champions Toulon set to bring their squad of superstars to Scotstoun Stadium on Saturday.
“I was trying not to think about it much,” Fusaro said.
“These next two games with Glasgow are pretty big, so I was pleasantly surprised when the email came out on Tuesday night, and I’m just delighted to be part of it again, hopefully I can last a bit longer in the squad this time and have a real crack at getting my first cap.”
Having made the 36-man squad, Fusaro’s elevation to a starting birth when Scotland open their campaign at the Aviva Stadium on 2 February is far from guaranteed despite club team-mate John Barclay and Edinburgh’s Roddy Grant–one of the standout flankers available to Johnson–missing out.
“There’s a lot of competition, and I think Kelly [Brown]’s going for seven spot now as well so with him and [Ross] Rennie there’s a lot of competition as always,” Fusaro added.
“Playing for your country is never going to be easy, it’s always going to be a massive task, so it’s just going to be a challenge you have to take.”
With Johnson now considering captain Brown primarily as a flanker, injuries at No8 notwithstanding, Fusaro needs to continue to impress the straight-talking Aussie to secure at least a place on the bench.
Asked by the Scotland interim head coach to work on elements of his game, Fusaro has been impressive for the Warriors and is rewarded with Johnson revealing that it was Brown, Barclay and Grant who were in the running to be the third open-side in his squad.
“I guess you have to take it as it is,” Fusaro continued.
“He’s given me some things to work on, so if I want to play for Scotland I go and work on those things. It’s as simple as that for me, and obviously it’s difficult to take if you’re in the squad then you might have a chance, but being told you’re not is difficult to take.
“Going away and working on it was a real focus for me over the Christmas period, so I’m glad he’s recognised it and, hopefully in the squad, I’ll have a good crack at it this time.”
Far from being a shock at being told to improve his game rather than change it, Johnson’s decision saw Fusaro strive to improve his key strengths in training for his domestic side.
“It’s the nature of the sport, at the end of the day it’s Scott Johnson’s opinion that matters, so whatever he wants me to work on, if I want to play for Scotland, I have to work on that,” Fusaro added.
“You go in and you might think have had a good game and you get told that – you take stock. I think for me it’s not letting it get me down and take the positives from it. It wasn’t all negatives, there were some positives in the conversation as well, and just working on what he wants me to work on.
“I think finding a couple of things that were my strength and working on them, because that’s what he was asking me to do effectively – collisions and at the break-down and, for me, I think that is one of my strengths, so it was, almost, not going back to the drawing board, but just focusing on two or three key things and I think that helped.”
With forward packs across Europe becoming increasingly taller and stronger, Fusaro’s size at 5ft 11½ins and around 15st a step down from Brown’s 6ft 4ins and 17st, but what the Warriors flanker lacks in size he makes up for with other attributes that coaches are keen to utilise around the breakdown.
“That’s always been one of the things that keeps me going, is the challenge. I’m not the biggest guy and everyone knows that, but I like playing close to the ground so I just use that as much to my advantage as possible. Hopefully [there’s still a place for that].
“Gregor’s got the rotation policy, but I think consistency can help you, you get a run of games, you get your confidence up, your match fitness and that definitely helps.
“But on the flipside of that, and I think which helps the competition in the squad, if you have an off game there’s somebody in your position who can take your place, so I think that encourages you to play to your potential every game.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s clash with the big-spending Top 14 side from the south of France, Fusaro’s excitement echoes that of the rest of the team and Warrior nation with a focus on what they can control rather than an eye on whether a series of results in other matches across the weekend go their way.
“Massively excited,” he added.
“We have huge amounts of respect for Toulon and the calibre of players they’ve got, but on the flipside of that I think we’re due them one as well.
“We didn’t play well in the first half and there were signs of it in the second half, but I think an 80-minute performance is going to be massively important against these guys – it’s one of those ones where you have to play well for the full game and take your opportunities.
“It’s a massive challenge, anyone they bring on, it doesn’t matter who starts; they’re all world class. [Steffon] Armitage is a specialist seven and he’s very good over ball and he’s a guy who got a few turnovers against us in the second half when we played them over there, so we’ll be targeting the breakdown – we want to play a quick-tempo game.
“It’s all about confrontation at the end of the day and I’m not the biggest so I do like going out there for a physical battle. [Armitage] is still quite quick, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
With club captain Al Kellock unavailable with an arm injury, Fusaro’s continued development has seen the Howe of Fife product retain the captaincy for the Toulon clash after his impressive performance in Devon.
But the 5,500 fans inside Scotstoun shouldn’t expect to hear much from him come 15:40 GMT on Saturday, neither should they expect him to be worried about whether they can reach the quarter-finals of the Amlin Challenge Cup if results go their way.
“I don’t talk. I tend to prefer to lead by example; that’s always been my style, but to be captain against Toulon is a massive honour again. Hugely looking forward to it.
“We’ve got Jacko [Ruaridh Jackson] who speaks a lot being the stand-off, he’s another good leader, and in the forwards there’s Ryan Grant and Tom Ryder, so they all help, but I just prefer to let my playing do the talking.
“We just go out and play. [Warriors head coach] Gregor [Townsend] said earlier on we can’t rely on the other results and we won’t be thinking about it, we’ll just be focusing on the Toulon game and we’ll do our utmost to get a result and if other results don’t go our way then so be it, but fingers crossed they do.”