Reporter Julian Peck talks to Scotland rugby star Andrew Henderson

WHEN Andy Henderson first stepped onto the playing pitches at Viewfield 16 years ago, he was watched by one man and his dog.

But today, the Scottish international rugby star can be seen entertaining almost 70,000 fans at Murrayfield Stadium.

Last Saturday, the 24-year-old from Kirkintilloch gained his 24th cap in the latest Abbey Autumn Test match against Japan.

Andy helped Scotland to an emphatic 108-8 win - scoring the eighth of 15 tries to help record the national side's highest ever points total in international rugby.

Born in 1980, Andy started playing the oval ball game at the age of just eight, when he joined the minis at Lenzie Rugby Club while a pupil at Lenzie Primary.

Six years later, in his third-year at Lenzie Academy, he swapped the red and blue of the Viewfield side for the red and yellow of West of Scotland Rugby Club.

After impressing at Burnbrae, the 6ft 2ins centre was selected for the 1999 Glasgow Thistles' youth development squad in New Zealand and went on to become the first of those team members to eventually be capped by Scotland.

"My dad is a big fan of rugby and always took me to games as a youngster," he said. "There was never a doubt about what sport I wanted to get involved in.

"I really enjoyed playing the game, but made an early decision to stay away from the forwards! I became a back instead, because I loved running with the ball and it's a decision I'm pleased that I made."

That decision ultimately led Glasgow Rugby to signing him up on full-time professional terms in 2000, after he had completed a three-year university degree in Sports Studies. He is now in his fourth season as a fully contracted professional player.

He continued: "After I had finished studying I wasn't entirely sure about what I wanted to do with my degree, so it was ideal when Glasgow offered me a contract and it proved an easy decision to turn professional.

"It's fantastic to be involved in the sport on a daily basis and it was the best choice I could have made."

Andy experienced his first taste of international rugby when he helped the Scottish Students to third place in the Students' World Cup in Italy in August 2000.

Then in September 2001, he was selected for the full Scotland side and made a dream scoring debut when he claimed a try following his introduction as a second-half replacement in the 32-10 win against Ireland.

His rapid rise up the international ladder led to a second try, also as a replacement, against the United States in San Francisco in June 2002.

He has now won 24 caps for Scotland, playing in all three of the recent tour tests against Samoa and twice against Australia.

"It's a fantastic set-up and a great honour to play for Scotland," Andy explained.

"When you're a young kid that's what you dream about - to one day play for your country - and it's an incredible feeling to actually achieve that.

"Walking out in front of all the fans at Murrayfield is amazing and it really takes your breath away - they make you want to play your absolute best for them, so that's what I try and do.

"We didn't get off to the best of starts against Australia earlier this month, losing 14-31, but we recovered to play reasonably well in the second half - all the games at international level are tough, but hopefully the result against Japan will prove to be a turning point."

This weekend, Andy will face the mighty Australia for the second time in the Autumn Tests at Hampden Park - only the third time Scotland have played a rugby international at the Glasgow stadium.

That will be followed by the equally impressive South Africans on November 27 at Murrayfield.

Andy added: "The popularity of rugby is definitely growing so hopefully we can keep that going and encourage more people to watch the game and participate in it by being successful on the pitch. It would be great if more youngsters got involved in the sport, especially in Glasgow, and the fact that we're playing at Hampden this Saturday can only be a good thing.

"Being able to do something that you love on a daily basis does take hard work, but the reward is just fantastic."

And if the youngsters don't make it along to Hampden this weekend then young and old alike can watch Andy in action for Glasgow Rugby every week playing in the Celtic League and Heineken Cup at Hughenden in the city's west end.