Fraser Dingwall will take extra satisfaction from his England debut knowing it embodies a triumph of persistence.
Dingwall starts Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener against Italy at inside centre as reward for his impressive form for Northampton, who provide three of the backline at the Stadio Olimpico.
Injuries to Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi have presented the 24-year-old with a platform to offer the solution to England’s perennial problem position – and it has been earned the hard way.
First called-up by Eddie Jones in 2020, he has been picked in nine senior squads without breaking into the matchday 23 in a sequence of omissions that left him fearing he would never be capped.
“There have been a couple of times when I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen but I feel like I’ve been pretty persistent,” Dingwall said.
“To get to this point makes it even more special just because I know the journey I’ve been through and what has been required to get to this point.
“I always felt like I was in and around it but also felt like there was growth in me. I don’t think I ever came in initially thinking I was the finished article and ready to go.
“I think I knew I was slightly early. And there has probably only been a couple of times I was really pushing.
“This was one of them and was the Australia tour in 2022. I was pretty gutted after that one not to have featured.
“But I’ve got lots of good people around me just to keep me level and I have a great team at Saints who have pushed me on to that next level.”
By his own admission Dingwall is not a bulldozing centre in the mould of Lawrence or Tuilagi but he is confident in his ability as a smart all-rounder who matches robust defence with sharp distribution and an eye for space.
“Some players typically have super strengths. I guess you could say I don’t necessarily have that, other than if I can be really good at lots of things,” he said.
“I can be really good with my voice and also really good at bringing the best out of other people. That almost becomes my super strength.
“It’s not so much about being really quick, or really powerful. But if I could do everything really well, that becomes a trait.
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“I wouldn’t look to replicate what Henry Slade does or what Ollie Lawrence does. Each centre is very different.
“It’s more about creating a balance in the midfield as a whole and how centres can complement each other.”
Northampton are the Gallagher Premiership’s pacesetters and qualified for the knockout phase of Europe after registering four wins in as many group outings.
Their backline potency is reflected in England’s team selection against Italy with scrum-half Alex Mitchell and wing Tommy Freeman also present and Dingwall believes recent wins over the likes of Toulon, Munster and Sale have put a spring in their step.
“There’s definitely confidence from that because we’re doing so well and also because of the teams we’ve beaten,” he said.