WHEN Phil Burleigh decided to move from the Scottish-themed city of Dunedin in New Zealand to sample the real thing, playing international rugby had nothing to do with his thinking. Now that the chance may come, however, he is ready to grasp it with both hands.

It is not that he does not have Scottish links. He does, but he is one generation too late to qualify for Scotland automatically, his great grandparents having moved before his grandmother was born in New Zealand.

Despite that he was brought up on tales of the old country and that played a part in his decision to move to Edinburgh when he was looking for a fresh challenge after seving his time with the Highlanders, the Super Rugby winning franchise based in Dunedin.

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“My great grandparents were born in Aberdeen, so I do have Scottish blood in me,” he said.

“I guess I’ve immersed myself right into the culture. I’m here now and really enjoying it and feel a part of it. I’m extremely proud to have made that initial [Scotland training] squad but now I’ve got to do a lot more. My concentration at the moment is with Edinburgh.”

He admitted that as time went on, it became obvious that he was well settled in Scotland and as he was seeing others such as WP Nel and Cornell Du Preez going through to qualify for Scotland on residency, he started to think about doing the same thing himself. It was never a priority, though, and a huge surprise when he got a phone call from Gregor Townsend, the Scotland head coach, just before the season started asking him to train with the national team.

“I knew it was coming around although I’d forgotten that the three years would come that quickly. Gregor got in touch with me and told me so I was delighted,” Burleigh recalled. “It meant a lot. I learned a lot about the way they want to play. It was really good.”

As a centre, these days one of the most competitive positions in the squad – he effectively took the place previously occupied by experienced cap Matt Scott and there are half a dozen other realistic candidates – he understands it is a huge leap from training with the squad to actually winning a cap, but at least he has put a foot on the first rung of the ladder.

The key is how he does at Edinburgh. With all its struggles over the past few years, the capital club has not been pulling its weight in terms of providing players to the national side. The only way of correcting that is to start getting wins and creating a platform for players like Burleigh to shine.

After the doom and despair of their non-performance against Benetton Treviso a week and a half ago, there were a few encouraging signs in the battling defeat away to the Scarlets last weekend, especially when you take into consideration they played most of the second half with 14 men.

Given Edinburgh’s maddening inconsistency, though, the challenge is to maintain that form when they travel to Leinster for Friday’s game in Dublin. The Irish province are going to be on a mission after losing in South Africa last week, and will also be welcoming back most of their British & Irish Lions stars.

“We were happy that we went [to Llanelli] with a more physical attitude,” said Burleigh. “There had been a bit of a drop-off the previous week – I think Cockers [Richard Cockerill, the head coach] mentioned that. Our physicality was really good against Scarlets and we will need to bring that against Leinster.

“They are going to be just as hard, but I think we learnt a bit from that game. Obviously, with 14 men it was really tough but we did stick in there really well to the end.

“For 30 minutes against the top team in the league with 14 men, we did pretty well.

“It is going to be another step up [against Leinster]. We have got to get a couple things right, execute a couple of things in our game, in attack. I think we now have the physicality so I don’t think we need to raise that much, but there are definitely a couple of things there in attack, skills and execution, that we need to get right against a good side.”

As one of the old heads in the side – he is approaching his 31st birthday and is also approaching 100 first-class games with 36 Super Rugby matches to go with his 60 for Edinburgh – he needs to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for making sure they deliver on all that – if he does the boost to his cap ambitions would be a bonus.