Lock Grant Gilchrist is on course for a return to action later this month and hopes the rotten luck which has dogged him over the past year is about to change.
The Scotland and Edinburgh forward battled back from a long-term arm injury to take his place in the World Cup squad but his tournament was ended in the second pool match against the United States when he suffered a groin injury. Even during the warm-up Test series he was struck by misfortune when he had to withdraw ill on the morning of the Italy clash in Turin after being named as captain for the match by national coach Vern Cotter.
You couldn’t watch that performance and not feel proud. We probably deserved to win a quarter-final against AustraliaGrant Gilchrist
Gilchrist revealed that his injury has been progressing well and he hopes to be back playing for Edinburgh in a few weeks.
“Rehab has been going well and I’ve just been gradually getting better and better as time goes on,” said the 25-year-old. “I’m getting to the point now where I’ve started to do some running and building it up this week. I’ll feel really good and then run and feel it a bit more.
“It’s still niggling a little bit but that’s to be expected. They reckoned it would probably be an eight-week injury and I’m now five weeks in.
“So I’m getting there but not quite yet. I think I’ll be targeting the game against Agen [20 November] as more realistic than the first European Challenge Cup game the week before. It just depends how it goes. If it has to take an extra week then so be it, you don’t want it to be a recurring problem.”
The Alloa man admitted it had been a bit of an annus horribilis on the injury front.
“Yes it has been a frustrating 12 months,” he said “It’s not really been a series of injuries, just the one big one and then obviously this one which is different.
“When you’ve been out for so long your muscles are a bit vulnerable. It’s not a problem I’ve ever had before. Coming back from a long-term injury you’re more susceptible to these things without even realising.”
Although it ended disappointingly with that injury at Elland Road, Gilchrist at least managed to get a full pre-season with the Scotland squad and enjoyed his curtailed World Cup experience. He was left to watch in agony like the rest of the population when the campaign came to its heart-wrenching climax in that agonising quarter-final loss to the Wallabies.
“I watched it with a few of the Edinburgh boys in a pub and was jumping about like everybody else,” he explained. “I spoke to some of the Scotland boys after and they were feeling just as you’d expect. It’s right there in front of you, leading a World Cup quarter-final with two minutes left. We trained for it all summer and it just leaves you gutted.
“Regardless of the refereeing decision it was our own doing. We had plenty of chances to see out that game. But in saying that you couldn’t watch that performance and not feel proud of the way the team played. We probably on the whole deserved to win a quarter-final against Australia and that’s no mean feat.
“We now have a lot to build on going into the Six Nations and have a team that will hopefully take a lot of confidence into that tournament.
“The World Cup was a great experience and it’s made me a better player. Through the summer I felt that. I certainly took a lot from it and it leaves me desperate to get back playing and show that the exposure to that level of training of the summer has raised my levels.”
The focus now switches back to Edinburgh, for whom he hasn’t played since being injured amid the carnage of the home European game against Lyon last October, when coach Alan Solomons lost half-a-dozen players to injury, the most serious of which was Gilchrist’s broken arm.
“Solly has been coaching for 100 years and never seen the like,” said the lock. “Hopefully it will never happen again.”
Gilchrist is clearly not superstitious as he has no qualms about returning to the black and red of Edinburgh against a French team in Europe if his injury recovers in time for that trip to Aquitaine to face Agen.
He missed the run to the final against Gloucester at Twickenham Stoop and hopes to be involved in another good European run, although he is adamant that the Pro12 is the main focus this season.
“We showed what we can do in that European competition last year,” he said. “But I think this season the league has to be our priority. We need to get that top six at least and make sure we are in the main European tournament next season. And we ourselves have gone further and targeted that top four and the Pro12 play-offs because that’s what it’s all about.”
Edinburgh have been boosted by the recruitment of openside flanker John Hardie, who was a stand-out performer in the World Cup, and Gilchrist is delighted to welcome the former Otago Highlander while not envying the coach in picking his back row. Gilchrist said: “John’s a good lad and has been in training this week, fitting in well with the boys already. He’s a quality rugby player and we are delighted to add him to our repertoire of quality back-row players.
“Alan is going to have some helluva tough selection meetings in the coming weeks. That’s not a bad thing. Competition always drives you to be better.
“Hamish Watson has been outstanding this season and Hardie has been outstanding for Scotland. Then you have Roddy Grant who has more than 100 games for Edinburgh.
“We’ve got some great options and you need that if you’re going to challenge for the top four.
“We’ve seen with Edinburgh in years gone by we’ve gone on a run of good wins then been hit with injuries and lost steam a bit. I think it’s 16 weeks in a row now so we need a big squad.”
l Grant Gilchrist was talking ahead of Rugby Tonight, BT Sport’s weekly rugby show, Mondays at 8pm. BT is at the heart of Scottish Rugby with the BT logo featuring on the front of the new Scotland Shirt and supporting Scotland’s club league and cup competitions and Scottish Rugby’s four new academies.