Tighthead convert Kevin Bryce joked that his former position of hooker was like “being in an armchair” in comparison but is confident that he can make the switch a success.
The 28-year-old, who joined Edinburgh from Glasgow along with brother Glenn in the summer, started his rugby life as a flanker before moving to hooker to advance his professional career with the Warriors. Scotland coach Vern Cotter convinced him to change again during last year’s World Cup and he had his first taste of Guinness Pro12 action in the No 3 jersey during last weekend’s home loss to Leinster when he replaced WP Nel with 15 minutes left.
“I was chuffed to bits to get on the pitch with the boys and get a run about for 15 minutes,” said Bryce. “Personally I thought the scrummaging went well. Before I came on the scrum was dominant and I just tried to carry that on again, win the battle on the hit. It’s things like that I need to keep working on.”
Bryce is hoping for more minutes under his belt at Munster on Saturday, but admits it has been a challenge moving to what is generally regarded as the game’s most physically demanding position.
“I thought hooker was tough and you had a lot of pressure coming through you but now being tighthead it’s like being a hooker is sitting in an armchair,” he said with a chuckle. “No disrespect to hookers. But honestly, you have two people attacking you and there’s a lot more pressure.”
Bryce has three caps, including one against the USA at the World Cup where he was a late injury call-up for new clubmate Stuart McInally, but he admits that his Test aspirations are now on the backburner as he serves his tighthead apprenticeship.
“There’s no chance of being involved in the autumn Tests,” he emphasised. “The aim for every player is to make the national set-up but right now I’m fully focused on Edinburgh and I’ve got a lot to learn.
“It was Vern who approached me [about the positional switch]. He made a few passing comments during the World Cup and I thought he was taking the Mick, then after about the third time I pulled him up on it and was like ‘look, mate, what’s going on here?’ and he took me aside and had a proper chat with me about it.
“He said there could be a chance for me as there wasn’t a whole lot of strength in depth at tighthead.”
When it comes to learning the ropes then Bryce could have few better men to learn from than Nel, who is now firmly established as Scotland’s first-choice No 3 and strongly tipped to be a Test starter for the British and Irish Lions next summer.
“I’ve been working really hard with [forwards coach] Stevie [Scott] and WP has been great for me as well. I’ve been working against people like Suzz [Rory Sutherland] and other looseheads, trying to get better. We’re helping each other.
“If I got to start, if WP was injured or something then I’d like to think I could manage it. There are other tightheads in the squad as well so I can’t assume I’m going to start if WP is unavailable. I need to be ready in my head mentally to play the full 80.
“WP regularly plays the whole 80 and fair play to him because after playing 15 minutes there on Friday, after a couple of scrums, you’ve not got a lot left in your legs to run about. I take my hat off to WP. He’s a fit guy.”
Munster at Thomond Park will be another tough test for Edinburgh, who have lost two out of their first three matches, but Bryce insists there are no easy games at tighthead.
“To play against any team in the Pro12 is tough in the front row, even the Italians, they love a scrummage,” he said.
“When I came on last week I was up against Cian Healy so that was some way to start against a British and Irish Lion.”
Bryce accepts it will take time to become the finished article but is eager to get on with the job.
“I was told it would be a long process and I knew that myself,” he said. “I was aware the task I was taking on was a monumental task.
“It’s not as easy as maybe making the switch from 7 to 2 was, although you had to learn to throw a ball in. Scrummaging is a massive technical part of the game at tighthead so I knew what I was getting into.
“It’s more about little one percenters that add up to helping me complete the scrum. Like keeping the loosehead out and doing everything right technically and consistently. You have good days and bad days. It’s just about keeping up and getting better and better.”