Ali Price recalls his Scotland 'heart-sink' moment as he opens up on battle for scrum-half position

Ali Price applauds the Scotland fans after victory over Romania. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
Ali Price applauds the Scotland fans after victory over Romania. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

He lost his place to Ben White for the Six Nations and the Toulon-bound No 9 retained the jersey going into the World Cup. It hasn’t been easy and Price doesn’t sugar-coat it. He talks of the “heart-sink moment” when Gregor Townsend told him he wasn’t in the squad to face England in February. He also speaks frankly about his frustration at the lack of game-time at Glasgow Warriors, a contributing factor to him slipping down the pecking order with Scotland for whom he had been a first-choice pick since after the 2019 World Cup.

That tournament ended prematurely for Price who was injured in the opening game against Ireland and had to come home. He would dearly love to be involved against the same opponents this weekend as Scotland look for the eight-point victory in Paris that should be enough to qualify for the quarter-finals at the expense of the Irish.

“It would be one of the biggest games of my career if I was given the opportunity to play,” said Price. “I’ve not had as many minutes as I would have liked to have had this year. I think every chance I’ve had I’ve shown what I can do. I’ve steadily got myself back to where I want to be as a player. I feel I’ve been training well, I’m in good shape and I feel that’s when I play my best.”

Scotland scrum half Ali Price makes a break during the win over Romania. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Scotland scrum half Ali Price makes a break during the win over Romania. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

With three international No 9s on the books, scrum-half is a highly competitive position at Glasgow and Price found himself vying with George Horne and Jamie Dobie as new coach Franco Smith rotated his squad. Horne in particular enjoyed an excellent season and was the club’s player of the year. He is part of Scotland's scrum-half group at the World Cup along with White and Price who started just eight times for Glasgow over the course of the campaign.

“I think it was a combination of things,” said Price as he reflected on a challenging season. “I played in the November Tests and was reasonably happy. I got quite a few minutes under my belt there, then maybe that period between the end of November and the start of the Six Nations, I was given time off after the autumn Tests and then I kind of got minutes here and there with Glasgow.

“That was frustrating for me, not getting the game time I would have liked. Again, though, it came back to others playing well in my position. There’s not much you can do when someone has taken an opportunity, but I would have loved to have played a bit more going into the Six Nations.

“I won’t forget the chat that Gregor had with me before the England game when I wasn’t involved. It was a heart-sink moment, that realisation, but I saw it coming because I’d not had as much game time as I would have liked and Ben and George were going well.

“The conversation started with, ‘I know you will be disappointed…’ and I was, but I think my reaction showed my growth. Perform in training, show what I can do and get myself back to where I wanted to be. That’s all you can do.”

After not being involved in the first two Six Nations games, Price returned to the squad for the final three and played as a sub against France, Ireland and Italy. White is expected to start this weekend, leaving Price and Horne to fight it out for a place on the bench.

“It’s been frustrating at times, don’t get me wrong,” said Price. “Everyone wants to play but I feel that during the Six Nations there was maybe a bit of a turning point for me in terms of I was seeing progress in myself in training. I was fit, I was healthy and I was making the most of the opportunities I had on the field. The starts have maybe been less than what I would have liked or what there had been previously but I feel I’ve got myself slowly back to a place where I’m happy with how I’m performing.

“The game at the weekend [against Romania] was a lot of fun and I think how I facilitated the game and put others into space is one of my strengths and I really enjoyed the team performance we had. I was happy with how it went and I’m kind of in a good spot.”

Price turned 30 this year and believes his improving maturity has helped him cope with selection setbacks. He says he has enjoyed this World Cup despite having to wait until Scotland’s third match, the 84-0 win over Romania on Saturday, to make his first start. He played as a second-half replacement for White in the opener against South Africa then sat out the second game against Tonga.

“From four years ago, getting injured in the first game and going home, I’ve matured as a person in my outlook,” said Price. “This situation a few years ago would have eaten me up inside. I’d have probably been negative about decisions or selection issues. At times you have to accept that there are good players playing well in your position. It can happen and other guys take their opportunities and you have to bide your time. I think that’s the kind of realisation I’ve come to, the bigger picture. All I can do is focus on myself and get myself to where I want to be.”

He and his partner Annie are expecting their first child next year and Price thinks the added responsibility will help him develop further on and off the pitch.

“Annie and I are so excited,” he said. “We can’t wait for March when the baby is due. It’s about the bigger picture. In life, you grow as a person and a player, you learn more about sport and being angry and upset over decisions which aren’t in your control isn’t going to help anybody.

“It’s not going to help you get where you want to be. Contributing positively, being the opposition in training and just working hard at what you do - that’s the bigger picture. That maturity comes with age and from having been around this environment for a while.”