IF THERE ever was a time when Scotland would fear the sheer physicality of the Springboks, Alasdair Dickinson believes it is firmly in the past. The Edinburgh prop, back in Scott Johnson’s team for the second autumn Test, is confident that the home pack will hold their own on Sunday just, as they did in Nelspruit on their summer tour.
“We probably should have won that game,” he said. “Should have, would have, could have is an easy thing to say, but I think we fronted up physically very well in that game.
“They didn’t bully us at all. They’re renowned for being big and physical but I think you’ll see with the size of the big boys in the Scottish squad now, I don’t think we’re much smaller than these big nations. I think we’ll have to step it up again. I think they got a bit of a shock in the summer, so they’ll be expecting a physical game. So will we.
“It’s just building on from the summer, building on from last week. Everything just notches up again and again, so you just have to keep moving forward. It will be tough, but everyone is just raring to go.”
One school of thought is that the way in which scrums are now being conducted works in favour of the smaller pack, because the lack of a hit at engagement means they have that little bit more energy left. But Dickinson thinks the only significant difference in the new laws is that looseheads, on either side, have it slightly easier.
“They probably do help looseheads slightly. I think the tightheads, especially the bigger ones, might get it a little tough, because it kind of negates the hit. Especially the way the referees are interpreting the scrums. There’s almost no hit compared to last season.
“But I think again it’s still within a sounding-out period. As things go, it will progress even more. But, at the minute, the Edinburgh scrum’s going well, the Scottish scrum’s going well, so everything’s a positive.”
But, asked specifically if the lack of a hit detracted from the Springboks’ game, Dickinson insisted it did not. “No, I don’t think so. They’re still going to have a huge scrum. They’re still big, strong lads. So I don’t think it will take anything away from their pack.”
At 30, Dickinson himself is still a big, strong lad, despite injuries to both shoulders that had him worrying on occasion if he would ever get back into the shape needed to play international rugby. His return to fitness has coincided with his move back to Edinburgh after two years with Sale. And being an ever-present in the team has helped him rediscover the consistency that led to him first being capped six years ago, towards the end of his first spell in the capital.
“The last two seasons I’ve been plagued with injuries, so it’s just been bits of rugby here and there,” he explained. “I managed to come back and I’ve played every game for Edinburgh this season. I think it’s just the difference of getting a run of games injury-free – so far, touch wood.
“It’s helped. It does. When you play week in, week out you get a bit of consistency, so it does play a massive role. And I think it’s suited me well so far. When you’re in the depths of rehab, your mind starts to wander a little bit,” he continued when asked if he had ever thought his career was at risk because of injury. “But there’s always something inside you telling you to crack on and keep going. I’m glad I did, because the opportunity to come back to Scotland and pull on a Scotland jersey is just too big to give up.”
Besides the incentive of trying to return to the international arena, Dickinson was also spurred on by the knowledge that many players, not only his fellow props, had had similar trouble but come back fitter than before. “Some have had horrific injuries and managed to come through. When you go through dark days like that and come out the other end it makes things all the more sweet,” he added.
“I guess it’s character building. When you get knocked down you slowly but surely get back up on the horse and work away, and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Back on the horse, working away, and maybe staying in the saddle all the way to the Rugby World Cup. Ryan Grant is still Johnson’s first-choice No 1, but this is Dickinson’s chance to show he can still perform at this level. It’s a chance he has every intention of taking.
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