Alex Craig’s first team debut for Gloucester against Wasps a fortnight ago was a long time coming but it was a special moment for the 21-year-old Scottish lock, whose five-year journey from Dumfries to Kingsholm, via Hartpury College, is an object lesson in perseverance.
Hailing from a sporting family in which his dad played rugby for Stewartry RFC in Castle Douglas and his mum was a hockey player, Craig realised pretty early in his formative years that he needed to leave what was a remote rugby area if he was to ever achieve his professional dream.
He explained: “My dad is a farmer and where I’m from in Scotland is pretty rural so there weren’t that many sporting opportunities. I played my junior rugby for Stewartry, then when I was 14 joined Dumfries RFC, but I knew I had to move if I was to follow my passion – rugby.
“So, when I was 16, I went to Hartpury College to do a BTEC course. It was a pretty brave move at the time, I guess, and my mum and dad took a bit of persuading to let me go down south, but I’ve been in the Gloucester area five years now and it feels like my career is taking off a bit.
“I did well enough at Hartpury to get into Gloucester’s U18s academy but it’s never been easy and I had an illness two years ago that kept me out for a year and then last season, after representing Scotland at the U20s World Cup in Georgia, I tore a meniscus in my knee.
“To come through that and make my first team debut a fortnight ago was something I’d been looking forward to for a while and hopefully I can take more opportunities now. My big target is to secure a first team contract and put some pressure on the club’s senior second rows.”
An athletic lock in the mould of a Brodie Retallick or Maro Itoje, Craig is firmly in Scotland’s sights having twice represented them at Junior World Cups. He said: “I was vice-captain in Georgia 2017 and played every game, which was great for my development. We won four out of five games and the only team we lost to was New Zealand, so it was a successful campaign as well.
“I’m on Scotland’s radar and my dad and granddad wouldn’t be best pleased if I wasn’t committed to them so that’s something I’d love to do one day. First, though, I know I’m going to have to nail down a place at Gloucester so I want to give the coaches some selection headaches.”
Having starred for Hartpury under the tutelage of former Gloucester lock Mark Cornwell, Craig has equally good mentors at Kingsholm in the form of Johan Ackermann and Alex Brown. He added: “Those guys have been great and when I watch the likes of Retallick and Itoje, they’re what you aspire to be – athletic, dynamic, powerful and good in the lineout.”