Who is Henry Pyrgos? Profiling Scotland's new captain

By Jamie LyallBBC Scotland
Henry Pyrgos in training for Scotland
Henry Pyrgos captains Scotland for the first time on Saturday
Ireland v Scotland
Date: Saturday, 15 August Venue: Aviva Stadium, Dublin Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online

A Cypriot surname, velvet Dorset tones that are the perfect frame for his natural eloquence and a schooling at two of England's most prestigious rugby institutions.

These are not, on the face of it, foremost criteria for the captain of the Scottish rugby team.

Thankfully, they only tell part of Henry Pyrgos's journey from rangy kid with flamboyant hairstyle to the level-headed kingpin who leads Scotland into battle in Dublin in their first World Cup warm-up against Ireland on Saturday.

Pyrgos's beginnings lie in England's southwest, where both parents taught at the palatial Bryanston School he would later attend.

He was immediately thrust to the centre of a household dichotomy.

"The Calcutta Cup was like Braveheart in our house," chuckles father Mike, a "born and bred Londoner" who exerted a tremendous influence on his son as doting parent and watchful coach.

He remains Bryanston's rugby master and coached throughout the English youth set-up.

But it was mother Fiona, Grangemouth-born to Dundonian parents, who ensured her lad always retained - or was at least never permitted to forget - a tangible link to his roots.

Henry Pyrgos celebrates scoring a try for Glasgow Warriors in the Pro12 final
Henry Pyrgos will lead Scotland in Dublin

From their home in London, Fiona's mother and father rushed north so their daughter could be born on Scottish soil, and it was she who sewed the first tartan seeds.

Pyrgos always revered rugby. As a boy, he couldn't get enough, devouring match after televised match - even then a veritable coach's dream.

Speaking to those that shaped his development reveals telling glimpses of a young man whose ravenous hunger for rugby and studious approach to the game distinguished him from his peers.

Back then, of course, it was purely for pleasure. But as the professional career he treasured became an increasingly attainable goal, that diligence was focused further.

"I remember his under-14 coach at school saying to me, 'it's like having 16 players on the pitch when Henry's playing, because he reads the game that well,'" Mike recalls.

Just months into his role managing what was then a fledgling Scottish Exiles development programme, Rob Brierley kept close tabs on Pyrgos - even though the young scrum-half failed to make the cut in his first trial.

"He always understood the game; he was slightly ahead of everybody else in terms of his game understanding and what he was trying to do," says Brierley.

"He was really innovative. That's what made him stand out as a player. At the time, other people maybe had more technical skill than he did, but he was just so lively, so difficult to play against.

Henry Pyrgos scores for Scotland against South Africa in 2012
Pyrgos flies in for a try on his second cap for Scotland against South Africa

"He was a great communicator, very focused. He knew his mind and was willing to take advice. He understood the game and had outstanding ability."

With their conspicuous cameras, glaring lights and assortment of microphones, press conferences are not always the best forum in which to assess a player's personality.

Pyrgos typically comes across a fairly impassive individual.

There's a calmness, an air of subtle self-assurance but scant sign either of the domineering presence of Saturday's Ireland counterpart Sean O'Brien or the rousing head-above-the-parapet, blood-and-thunder fare one might expect from a rugby skipper.

"He didn't necessarily bang the drum, but he was quite bold with people and influenced them in a variety of different ways," Brierley adds. "I think he's somebody who would inspire people and get them to play for him."

"He captained his year group sides down the school all the way through," attests Mike. "He captained the local club to an under-13 final at Twickenham.

Henry Pyrgos touches down in the Pro12 final for Glasgow Warriors
Pyrgos scored a try in the Pro12 final as Glasgow Warriors romped to victory

"He's not someone who will shout and jump up and down; he's more of an encourager with a quiet word. He does bully forwards - always has done that."

Rising from Loughborough University to earn a professional contract at Glasgow Warriors in 2010 and a Test debut two years later, Pyrgos has since blossomed into a shrewd game-manager, assuming an active leadership role at Scotstoun.

Perhaps he lacks the raw talent of young rival Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, who burst on to the scene with Edinburgh last season, or the downright grit of the more seasoned Greig Laidlaw.

He is favourite neither to retain the captaincy nor the number nine jersey come the World Cup itself - indeed, he is unlikely even to hold either next week with Vern Cotter expected to rotate his huge posse of tournament hopefuls in the second warm-up against Italy.

There's an undoubted opportunity, though, against a ruthlessly efficient Ireland, but the sort of adversary Glasgow themselves consumed with ruthless efficiency with Pyrgos at the helm on their way to winning the Pro12.

He sat out the Six Nations injured yet has emerged from last season arguably the most in-form and well-rounded of the trio.

Greig Laidlaw and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
Greig Laidlaw and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne are also vying for a scrum-half berth

A handy goal-kicker, his strength lies chiefly in controlling the pace of games; making telling tactical plays in pressure situations, kicking for territory, delaying a pass a fraction, spinning the ball wide or bringing in the bruisers. These are the sound qualities of a captain.

Pyrgos is still 26, still to be moulded and refined - not by Brierley or his father now, but meticulous Warriors head coach Gregor Townsend - still with the insatiable hunger to learn and improve.

As Brierley says, "I don't think we've seen the best of Henry yet."