Lyon v Edinburgh: Terrific Toolis is on the up

Ben Toolis has taken on the duty of calling lineouts. Picture: Robert Perry

Ben Toolis has taken on the duty of calling lineouts. Picture: Robert Perry

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AUSTRALIA’S loss will be Scotland’s gain. That is the firm conviction of Edinburgh coach Alan Solomons when he considers the potential of 22-year-old lock Ben Toolis.

The Queensland native arrived in this country in the summer of 2013 as a talented all-round athlete (who had played volleyball for his country at age-grade level in a previous life) with plenty of raw rugby potential. Since then (and during the last three months in particular), he has transmuted into a grizzled enforcer in an Edinburgh pack which has taken very few prisoners in recent outings.

And Solomons reckons it is only a matter of time before his protégé is rewarded with full international recognition. Toolis qualifies to play for Scotland through his mother, Linda, who is from Carluke in South Lanarkshire.

“Absolutely I see him playing for Scotland. Scott Johnson [the SRU director of rugby] did a hell of a job getting him here and in spotting that talent. This guy is an exceptional player and Australia are going to be kicking themselves,” said the veteran coach. “He is an incredible athlete. He has a great physique, fantastic hand eye co-ordination, tremendous aerial skills and he is highly intelligent.”

“It is up to the player to take the opportunity he is given and Ben has really worked hard,” the South African continued.

“There was a time before he started playing for us on a regular basis that he sat down with myself and [assistant coach] Stevie Scott. We took him through his games, pointed to things that were important for him to improve, particularly the physicality in terms of his carries, the breakdown and his defence, and he has taken all that on board

“He has taken the responsibility of calling the lineout and done a superb job as a young guy with little experience in the pro game. He is a demon at scrum time: he is big and strong and pushes every single scrum. His work rate is through the roof.”

Edinburgh face Lyon at the Matmut Stadium this evening knowing that any sort of victory will put them in a commanding position at the top of their European Challenge Cup pool, and in pole position to secure a home draw in the quarter-finals.

Toolis will make his tenth consecutive start in the second-row. In fact he has been an ever-present in the side since his first appearance as a first-half replacement for Grant Gilchrist against the same opposition at Murrayfield back in October.

Edinburgh won that game 25-17, with Toolis playing a key role in the heart of the pack after coming on as a replacement in the 28th minute, when Scotland captain Grant Gilchrist broke his arm.

“Obviously it was a negative for Gilco [who is still out and not expected back until late March] but it was a positive for me and I felt I needed to take the opportunity with both hands,” said Toolis. “I knew they were very big boys – so sitting on the bench I knew that if I got on I would have to be very physical, and that’s what I tried to do. I was quite proud and happy with the way I performed, so from there on it was just about getting more game time in order to get a bit smarter on the field.”

As for his international prospects, Toolis will not be holding his breath waiting for a call from Vern Cotter ahead of next Tuesday’s announcement of Scotland’s Six Nations training squad.

“It would be nice, but we’ll wait and see what happens. My focus is playing for Edinburgh and to keep getting better and better,” he shrugged.

Of course, Ben did not arrive in this country alone. His twin brother, Alex, signed with the SRU at the same time, and Solomons was keen to stress that the marginally smaller sibling can also make an impact when his opportunity comes along.

“Funnily enough, Stevie and I took him through clips of his games earlier this week, just as we did with Ben a few months ago, and we will do it again next week with the other stuff we want him to have a look at,” said Solomons. “Ben is a little bit bigger and because we thought he had the edge he got the opportunity, but Alex is a fine player in his own right and I do believe he will come through.”

Solomons has stuck largely to the team which ground out a gutsy victory in Connacht last Friday night. Club captain Mike Coman returns at blindside flanker, with Roddy Grant shifting across to open-side, and Hamish Watson dropping to the bench.

Meanwhile, Lyon gave an indication of where their priorities lie by making 13 changes – one positional – from the side which lost narrowly away to Bayonne last time out.

Australian rugby legend George Smith, former France captain Lionel Nallet and Kiwi playmaker Stephen Brett are all being kept on ice ahead of the resumption of their battle for Top 14 survival.

“If we win we are in a good position but it is never easy going to France, no matter what team they put out,” said Solomons. “We know they have rested a few players, but they have depth in their squad and operate big budgets. They have beaten Clermont, Stade Francais and Montpellier so have picked up some big scalps.”

Lyon

15 R Loursac

14 P Bonnefond

13 W S Sukanaveita

12 F Estebanez (c)

11 T Regard

10 L Munro

9 R Januarie

1 B Balan

2 D Fitzpatrick

3 H Pungea

4 M De Marco

5 S C Njewel

6 S Cerqueira

7 K Ghezal

8 M Matadigo

Subs

16 V Colliat

17 S Mavinga

18 A Roux

19 F Viljoen

20 E Nzi

21 M Loree

22 D Tison

23 J Porical

Edinburgh

15 J Cuthbert

14 D Fife

13 M Scott

12 P Burleigh

11 T Visser

10 G Tonks

9 S Hidalgo-Clyne

1 A Dickinson

2 R Ford

3 WP Nel

4 A Bresler

5 B Toolis

6 M Coman (c)

7 R Grant

8 D Denton

Subs

16 N Cochrane

17 R Sutherland

18 J Andress

19 F McKenzie

20 H Watson

21 S Kennedy

22 J Te Rure

23 A Strauss

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