Gordon hopes to continue building when rugby returns

Gordon hopes to continue building when rugby returns

Everyone brought up in New Zealand’s childhood dream is to play professional rugby. It was Tom Gordon’s too, but when he flew from New Zealand to Scotland it was travel, not rugby, that was the dream.

“I was coming over to travel Europe,” explained Gordon.

“I had always wanted to travel Europe on a gap year. I went to boarding school and we’d have people from the UK come over as tutors and live in the boarding house. I was like, 'when I finish school, I want to do that.' Not live in a boarding house but come over and work!

“I came over straight from school for a gap year. The plan was to work for my family over in Scotland for a bit, travel, play a bit of rugby and go back to New Zealand after about six months.

“I played for Edinburgh U18s, then played my way into the Scotland U18s. I got put into the academy and decided to stay and give it a shot. Five years later, here I am!”

When asked about how the decision came about to stay and pursue a full-time contract Gordon admitted: “I don’t actually remember how the decision was made for me to stay and pursue rugby.

“The decision was kind of stay until the end of the year (2015), then it was halfway through the season so I’d stay until the end of the season, and then the end of that season I got the Stage 3 academy contract and I was like, ‘I’ll stay, I quite like it here’!

“It’s just slowly kind of built for me. I’ve taken it as it comes.”

Things certainly have been building for Gordon this season. A campaign that saw him make his European debut, scored his first try for the club, earned a call up to the Scotland squad for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations and was named as Most Improved Player at the club’s 2019/20 awards.

“It’s a shame the season got paused,” smiled Gordon.

“I was happy with how it went, and I had risen the ranks a bit.”

"At the start of the season, I was put on the bench when everyone was fit and it was a pinch myself moment. Again, before the season was put on pause we were playing against Leinster and I was starting when everyone was fit.

On his European exploits, the 23-year-old said: “Exeter away was my first ever European game. It was pretty good; the result didn’t go our way but it was exciting to get a chance to play against one of the top teams in Europe and see how I fared.

“I only played 20 minutes and I came away not feeling sore and I thought it wasn’t too much of a step up. It’s harder to play against them but I didn’t feel it was more physical. It was fun.”

Gordon’s first start in Europe against Sale was a different story.

“I was so sore after that game - I couldn’t even do a press-up after it!” laughed the flanker.

“It was good to get a start in Europe but it made me realise I don’t know if I could play in the English Premiership!”

As the season progressed Gordon's performances caught the eye of the Scotland coaching staff, leading him to be named in Gregor Townsend's Six Nations squad. The Scotland call-up was something Gordon wasn’t expecting, and once again rugby got in the way of his plans to travel.

“I didn’t think I was on the radar at all,” he admitted.

“Some of the boys were saying they reckoned I’d be in, but I was like, ‘why? I’ve not even started a game yet.’”

“I had only started one game this season before being named. I was surprised. I was like ‘why me?’

“I had booked to go travelling around Europe with Stafford [McDowall] during the Six Nations break, so there was a little part of me that was gutted but obviously bigger things came about.

“I can’t remember how I broke the news to Stafford that I couldn't go!”

Indeed when you take a moment to reflect on the milestones Gordon has hit this season, it’s easy to see why the coaching staff named him as the club’s Most Improved Player. When rugby eventually returns, the flanker has his eyes on cementing a place in the starting XV.

“Rens [Dave Rennie] always said my point of difference was my ball carrying,” said Gordon.

“I think my athleticism and link play are strong parts of my game. I can also play a pivot role well too – passing and moving the ball when I need to.

“I just want to get the feeling of rugby week in week out and getting a starting spot every week. I’d like to get almost battle-hardened from playing.

“It’s fun to start, it’s fun to play a lot rather than playing from the bench.

“Even the games I have started in it has been weird, getting a start then having a week off. I just want to get a string of games together and show what I can do.”

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