THE fact that Alasdair Dickinson, aged 31 years and 123 days, is the oldest active player in the current Edinburgh squad highlights just how youthful that group is.
He reckons that if he has a close shave he can claim to be 25 and get away with it and he’s not far off the mark.
Behind the youthful façade, though, there is an experienced campaigner who made his debut for the club ten years ago, played six years in the English Aviva Premiership with Gloucester then Sale Sharks and has picked up 39 caps for Scotland along the way.
There is no doubt that Dickinson has been around the block a few times and he might be a senior citizen in comparison with the likes of Edinburgh’s 21-year-old scrum-half Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and their 22-year-old lock Ben Toolis, but he is still a colt in terms of front-row forwards, and any suggestion that he might be entering the twilight years of his career is dismissed with a snort of derision.
“I joke about getting old but, really, I’m loving it. I’ll go on as long as I can, I don’t see myself ending anytime soon,” says the Dundonian, who was Scotland’s first-choice loosehead prop during the recent Autumn Test series.
“When you’re older you realise how great this all is. When you’re young you think it’ll last forever but when you get older you relish these opportunities.”
“I went through tough years with my shoulder, especially at Sale when I had an operation on it, did four months’ rehab, played a couple of games and realised it wasn’t right so went in for what I thought would be minor clear-out surgery and when I woke up I was told that something had gone wrong and that I would be out for another four or five months. Things were pretty dark then but you get through it and games like this one against Glasgow are great for reminding you why you love being a rugby player.”
“You look back and think that period when I was struggling with my shoulder was character-building.
“It tests your mettle and adds to how much you enjoy it. Even going out in driving hail and minus five in Scotland – you look at it and think: Someday this is going to be over. Dry your eyes and get on with it.”
That is the attitude the whole Edinburgh team will be looking to adopt this evening as they set about turning around a ten-point deficit from last Saturday’s defeat by Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun, which would allow them to lift the 1872 Cup for the first time in six years.
It is a massive challenge against a side which has become one of the dominant forces in the Guinness Pro12 in recent seasons.
The Warriors are slick in attack, mean in defence and are in possession of the sort of self-belief that you can only gain from tasting success on a consistent basis.
Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons believes his young side are on the road towards emulating Glasgow’s success and a victory of any sort today would go a long way towards giving those claims credibility.
The Edinburgh set-up are sensibly sticking to the party line that their pre-match focus is purely on winning this specific game and that securing a big enough margin to grab the silverware will follow from that – but this squad have suffered so many indignities in recent seasons that the opportunity to win something tangible must be so tantalising that there is a danger of it becoming a major distraction.
There is another factor which tends to have a bearing on how this match pans out and that is the national trial element of playing against individuals who are competing for the same jersey in the Scotland team in the upcoming Six Nations Championship. Once again, Dickinson’s team would do well to listen to the sage words of their elder statesman.
“If you get carried away with that and not doing your job for the good of the team you can slip up and do things you normally wouldn’t do in a game.
“I just keep my head down and work hard,” he says. “There’s nothing I can do, I can’t pick the Scotland team.
“It comes down to the individual. You’ve got to set your own targets about how you can be prepared in order to get or keep the jersey. For me, it’s just about getting better all the time.”
“The press don’t really describe this as a league game, but essentially it is that.
“We’re lying eighth in the league and we don’t want to be there, so you have to take the view that this is a league game and we need the points.” It is a sensible way of looking at things by an individual who has seen enough and done enough during the last decade to be able to provide a calming perspective to what promises to be a turbulent occasion as Edinburgh look to overhaul a ten-point deficit.
Come kick-off time at 7:35pm this evening, however, you can’t help suspecting that a little bit of Alasdair Dickinson will feel like a 21-year-old again and he will be desperate to get out there with a devil-may-care attitude in order to make his mark on the world.