Self-proclaimed “little posh boy from England” Sam Skinner says his man-of-the-match Scotland debut was “probably the best day” of his life.
The Exeter Chiefs lock excelled as the Scots routed Fiji 54-17 at Murrayfield.
Born and raised in England, Skinner is eligible to Gregor Townsend through his father – a man the 23-year-old describes as “a classic Scot”.
“I’ve grown up supporting Scotland and England, which is very rare, I suppose,” Skinner said.
“So it was a tough decision [to represent Scotland] but it also wasn’t at all. I want to make my family proud. I’m honoured to play for Scotland.
“My dad grew up supporting Scotland. Being in the living room, watching my dad watch Scotland, walking in and out, stressing about the game.
“He’s probably going to have an early night – the anxiety has probably crippled him. He honestly gets more nervous than I do for games; he doesn’t say a word to people before.”
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‘A little posh boy from England walking into the Scotland camp’
Skinner revealed his father “took a massive step back” and left his son to decide whether to pursue Test honours with Scotland.
After a debut that featured 10 ball-carries, 44m gained on the run and a perfect seven out of seven tackles completed, Skinner reflected on his arrival in the autumn camp.
“I didn’t know what to expect – a little posh boy from England walking into the Scotland camp, but they’ve been awesome, really friendly,” he said.
“I love the way Scotland play. I think it suits my game. I really like the way Gregor’s trying to implement a fast, high-tempo, almost champagne style of rugby. They play a similar style to Exeter and that excites me. When a team shows interest in you, that you’re the sort of player they want, then you’ve got to take that opportunity.”
‘I thought rugby had gone for me’
As a “late developer” Skinner was set to embark on a gap year and abandon his dreams of a professional rugby career when he left school in 2013, but a “late growth spurt” convinced him to “give it one last crack” and join Taunton in the English fourth-tier.
Chiefs signed him a year later and he completed a business economics degree at Exeter University while training full-time with Rob Baxter’s squad.
“I think I signed for Chiefs at 90kg. For a year, they allowed me to develop, get bigger. I put on another 5-10kg at university and it let my size get up to Premiership and then international level,” he said.
“I thought rugby had probably gone for me. I owe a lot to a lot of people. I’ve been really fortunate with the coaching I’ve had. You sort of just keep your head down and work hard, then all of a sudden you look up and it’s like, oh my god, what’s going on?”