Travel broadens the horizons, or so they say, even if the journey only goes as far as the heart of England’s West Country. Alasdair Dickinson spent four important years learning his trade at Gloucester, one of England’s most rigorous finishing schools.
It seems to have had the desired effect because, ahead of Edinburgh’s Heineken Cup meeting with his alma mater at Murrayfield on Sunday, Dickinson has proved a regular starter for the capital club, despite the arrival of sundry South Africans.
WP Nel holds down the No.3 jersey but Dickinson has seen off the challenge of Wicus Blaauw at loosehead, at least for the time being. The feeling is that the giant Afrikaner will present a bigger challenge as and when his girth gets smaller.
“Most of the Gloucester guys I knew have gone,” says Dickinson. “I don’t know what their team is but there is Will James, Mike Tindall, James Simpson-Daniel, if he isn’t injured. Gloucester is one of the proper English old school clubs that have got traditional values. They have a great ground at Kingsholm and a tradition of doing well in big competitions.
“It is a mindset thing. They are a big club that expect big things. They haven’t had a decent run in the Premiership so will definitely target us.
“They will look at this as a game for them to get their season back on track as much as for us to put a marker down.”
The Gloucester pack has a classy back row pair in England caps Ben Morgan and Matt Kvesic but, and it is almost sacrilegious to say so, their strength now lies in a quickfire back division who can hurt any side from anywhere.
Players such as Freddie Burns, Henry Trinder, Charlie Sharples and Tom May should frighten the bejesus out of the best defence, even in the absence of the injured Simpson-Daniel.
His side’s set-piece weakness has been visible from space, so coach Nigel Davies recently spent some of the club’s cash on a giant 20-stone-plus Tongan tighthead by the name of Sila Puafisi.
Dickinson may well bang heads with him on Sunday and, if he does, the Scot will be conceding more than three stones in the personal head-to-head. Thankfully, he is in better shape to do so now than when he won his first Test caps for Scotland way back in 2007. His set-piece work was patchy in the past, even before Frank Hadden played him at tighthead in Paris of all places, but Dickinson has had seven starts in his second stint at Edinburgh and, at the grand old age of 30, he is now fulfilling some of the promise of his youth. He has only signed a one-year deal with Edinburgh but extending that deal must be high on coach Alan Solomons’ “to do” list.
“I am not looking that far ahead,” says Dickinson. “I am really enjoying playing for Edinburgh but I don’t know what will happen.
“The way Edinburgh is going is a good thing. I have been playing most weeks and we are getting better each week so there is no reason why I would want to leave.”
Dickinson once made it to the Heineken Cup quarter-finals in the famous cherry-and-white colours of Sunday’s opponents.
If Edinburgh’s prodigal son wants to mark his return to his original club with a place in this year’s play-offs he will have to show his former finishing school just how much he learned from them.