YOU get the impression that Ben Toolis doesn’t quite know what to make of the rollercoaster journey his rugby career has travelled in recent months – and especially during the last seven weeks.
On the one hand, he has enjoyed the thrill of emerging from the shadow of fringe-player status at Edinburgh to become a key man in the heart of the capital outfit’s pack, with full international honours also coming his way when he made his bow at the highest level as a late replacement for Scotland against Italy at the end of February.
On the flipside, that one and only outing in the dark blue jersey was during an ignominious afternoon in Scottish rugby history as Vern Cotter’s side surrendered what should have been a commanding lead with a brain-dead and spineless final ten minutes against the Azzurri at Murrayfeld.
To add salt to the wound, Toolis’s cameo appearance lasted just eight minutes, before he was yellow-carded with 90 seconds to go for illegally collapsing a driven line-out in a desperate last-ditch attempt to halt Italy’s relentless progress towards the Scottish try line.
Toolis did not feature again for Scotland during their RBS 6 Nations campaign, and the understandable pride of joining that select band of brothers entitled to call themselves international athletes is clearly tempered by an equally reasonable frustration that his game time since the start of February has been limited to half a match for Edinburgh against Ulster the week before his solitary Scotland appearance, plus a match against Benetton Treviso the week after.
This is in stark contrast to the run of 11 games he started on the bounce for Edinburgh before the Six Nations came along.
“It’s been great being in the Scotland squad and I’ve learned a lot while trying to make a claim for myself, but I’m really keen to get back in the swing of things and blow a few cobwebs away,” he said.
“It was great to get the first cap and get a taste of it, but it left me wanting more. The idea is to keep going out there and getting better for Edinburgh, and that will help me with regard to Scotland.
“It has been good and I’ve learned a lot with Scotland, and now I want to use that by coming back to Edinburgh and helping them push on towards the end of the season.”
The lock, who will celebrate his 23rd birthday on Tuesday, gets his opportunity to jump back on the horse this afternoon when he lines up in the boiler-house for Edinburgh in their Guinness Pro 12 clash against the Scarlets in south Wales.
Edinburgh currently sit eighth in the table, a point behind seventh-placed Scarlets, and four points adrift of Connacht, who occupy the European Champions Cup qualifying sixth-placed slot but will be up against it when they visit Thomond Park to take on Munster later tonight, so this match could be hugely significant to Edinburgh.
“I’m feeling pretty fresh. I thought my fitness would be down with not much game time, but Scotland keep you on your toes with training,” says Toolis.
“We definitely need to win this game because, if we don’t, we need other results to go our way.
Scarlets haven’t lost at home yet this season, but we were in this tough position a few months ago when Connacht had not lost at home and we went over there and got it. We’ve got Scotland boys coming back, they’ve got a few Welsh guys, but we’ll give it a crack.”
Toolis is one of six Edinburgh players who featured in Scotland’s RBS 6 Nations campaign involved in this match alongside Dave Denton, Hamish Watson, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Greig Tonks and Tim Visser. Ross Ford and Alasdair Dickinson have been rested, while Matt Scott and Dougie Fife are injured.
Scarlets: Jordan Williams; Harry Robinson, Regan King, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes; Steven Shingler, Aled Davies; Rob Evans, Ken Owens (captain), Peter Edwards, Jake Ball, George Earle, Lewis Rawlins, James Davies, John Barclay. Subs: Emyr Phillips, Phil John, Jacobie Adriaanse, Jack Payne, Rory Pitman, Gareth Davies, Rhys Priestland, Michael Tagicakibau.
v Scarlets at Parc y Scarlets today, kick-off 2.40pm
15 Jack Cuthbert
14 Tom Brown
13 Phil Burleigh
12 Andries Strauss
11 Tim Visser
10 Greig Tonks
9 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne
1 Rory Sutherland
2 Stuart Mcinally
3 WP Nel
4 Anton Bresler
5 Ben Toolis
6 Mike Coman (capt)
7 Hamish Watson
8 David Denton
Neil Cochrane, Grant Shiells, John Andress, Fraser Mckenzie, Roddy Grant, Nathan Fowles, Tom Heathcote, Sam Beard
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