FARMER SET­TLES UPON A UNIQUE AMER­I­CAN DREAM

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Sport | Rugby - 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

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