The Scottish Mail on Sunday


- By David Ferguson

INTERNATIO­NAL rugby is well used to players emerging from various parts of the globe with intriguing background­s, and with WP Nel, Huw Jones and Ryan Wilson — Scotland certainly has its fair share.

So, there may be little surprise to hear that the youngest player in the new Major League Rugby (MLR) to launch in America next weekend is an Aberdonian who developed a love of the oval ball in Azerbaijan.

Kieran Farmer is a 19-year-old stand-off who has attracted headlines at the launch of the new profession­al rugby league — as the only player to have come straight from high school into the profession­al game.

Named the top back in Texas schools rugby in 2016 and 2017, he is likely to sit on the bench for Houston Sabercats’ opening MLR match at home to New Orleans Gold on Saturday, backing up experience­d Australian — and former Brumbies, Worcester and Ulster fly-half — Sam Windsor in the No 10 jersey. He is, relatively, happy with that... for now.

‘Sam is great to work with and I’m learning a lot from him but obviously the aim is to compete for that starting slot,’ said Farmer.

‘I’ve played in 15 of our 16 warm-up season games, and started one, and it’s gone really well. So, we can’t wait for the start of the MLR now.’

Profession­al rugby in America has endured a few false starts but there appears to be a new swagger about the MLR, perhaps due to a top-down approach rather than a bottom-up. Instead of being formed by the amateur clubs who have formed the bedrock of a disparate sport over the past few decades, the MLR follows the American Football model with the franchises owning the competitio­n.

Seven teams will kick it off — the Sabercats, Gold, San Diego Legion, Austin Elite, Utah Warriors, Seattle Seawolves and Glendale Raptors. New York, Dallas, Minneapoli­s and Toronto have also formed teams with a view to joining in 2019. Houston’s young Scot is delighted to be wearing the yellow and black jersey — not dissimilar to Scottish champions Melrose — and is encouraged by the large crowds that pro rugby is on the up, even if it means regular flights of three and four hours, and five to Seattle. Farmer enthused: ‘Rugby is said to be the fastest growing sport now in the US and we’ve had a great support so far. ‘Yeah, I’m going to have to get used to lots of flying but that’s part of being a pro in the States. And I’ve had a bit of travel in my life!

‘I remember my dad taking me to a couple of rugby games around town in Aberdeen, but I didn’t start playing rugby until the family moved to Baku in Azerbaijan when I was six and I fell in love with it there.

‘A few years later, when receiving the news that we were leaving for Houston, I was devastated and thinking I would have to leave it all behind. But I was lucky enough to find a local club.’

He would go on to play American Football and join the athletics team at high school but Farmer, who stands at 5ft 11in tall and weighs 80kg, has picked up some decent rugby knowledge.

‘After my last year of high school, I had the opportunit­y to head to New Zealand last summer and train at the Hawkes Bay Global Rugby Academy,’ explained Farmer.

‘I was eating, breathing and sleeping rugby in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and I had the best time of my life.

‘I am now the youngest profession­al rugby player in the United States, but my plan for this inaugural season is to basically be a sponge and learn as much as I can on and off the field.’ And the long-term goal? ‘I would absolutely love to play for Scotland. I’ve been here a long time now and the accent’s maybe gone, but I am Scottish and that would mean so much to me, personally, as well as my family’, he said.

‘I would have the option to play for the US too, but, if I was ever lucky enough to be in a position to pick, it would definitely be Scotland.’

 ??  ?? FARM HAND: Kieran in action for the Houston Sabrecats
FARM HAND: Kieran in action for the Houston Sabrecats

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