KYLE Traynor will make his first start for Scotland, three years after his last cap, in tomorrow’s EMC Test with Tonga in Aberdeen after Ryan Grant was ruled out with a calf injury.
When the 26-year-old Traynor left Edinburgh in the summer, after not being offered a new contract, for Championship rugby at Bristol, it appeared his international hopes were hanging by a thread.
A combination of injuries and the retirement of Allan Jacobsen this week has given loosehead prop Traynor an opportunity at Pittodrie tomorrow.
Traynor praised the influence of Jacobsen, who is nicknamed Chunk, during his time at Edinburgh, and was given encouragement by Scotland’s most-capped prop last week.
Traynor, who was trialled at hooker for Edinburgh, said: “Chunk’s been a huge influence in my career, since I first met him as an 18, 19-year-old. He’s always helped me and always given me a load of advice.
“When I first got opportunities with Edinburgh it was through Chunk being injured. He would speak to me about the guy I was coming up against that week and really help me along.
“He’s a great bloke. I’ve not spoken to him this week, but I spoke to him at the tail end of last week and he just said to me ‘mate, you’ve got a massive opportunity so make the most of it’.”
Traynor made substitute appearances in Scotland head coach Andy Robinson’s first three Tests in charge, the November 2009 matches with Fiji, Australia and Argentina, but has had to wait since.
“I definitely thought it maybe had passed me by,” said Traynor, who was an unused replacement for the losses to New Zealand and South Africa.
“It’s quite a fickle game rugby, things can change in a very short space of time. Fortunately it’s changed in a good way for me.
“I believed in myself, I worked hard, was honest with myself and sometimes you get opportunities and it’s how you take it.
“I believe this is a massive opportunity for me.”
Traynor’s most recent match was for Bristol in the 63-7 loss at Nottingham on November 4, the week before the All Blacks clash, and he is confident of making the step up from England’s second tier to the Test arena.
He attributed his non-appearances against the All Blacks and Springboks to the performances of Grant, who he now hopes to emulate in a seamless transition.
Traynor added: “I’ve been able to play 80 minutes every week that I’ve been available for Bristol. It’s massively improved my rugby.
“The tightheads I’ve played against in the Championship are physically a lot bigger and more capable at scrum-time; they probably don’t have the all-round game of guys at the higher level.
“In the set-play, the mauls, the scrums, it’s a very tough league from what I’ve experienced so far.”
Traynor’s inclusion, with uncapped Glasgow Warriors prop Gordon Reid taking his place on the bench, takes the number of changes from the Springbok defeat to six.
Hooker Scott Lawson, lock Alastair Kellock, flanker Alasdair Strokosch, scrum-half Henry Pyrgos and centre Max Evans start, with Ross Ford, Jim Hamilton, John Barclay, Mike Blair and Nick De Luca omitted.
For successive weeks Scotland were forced into a late change, with Strokosch replaced at flanker by Barclay last weekend.
Defence coach Matt Taylor, though, is confident of an improved showing in front of a near-sell-out crowd; 19,800 of the 20,000 tickets had been sold on the eve of the match.
Tonga, who beat the United States in Wales last week, cannot be underestimated and sprung the surprise of the World Cup in beating eventual finalists France.
“We’ve prepared really well this week, so when you have good preparation you always go into games feeling good,” said Taylor, who was at Aberdeen Grammar Former Pupils during his playing career.
“We definitely made improvements from the New Zealand game to South Africa and I’m hoping the players will be even better this week.
“They’re a physical side, they’ve got big ball carriers, they’re quite elusive with their running, so we’ve worked pretty hard on our tracking, our tackling and our post-tackle work this week.
“They’re going to be a very good team and a significant challenge for us.
“We go into the game really confident in our preparation and our game plan. We’re looking forward to putting on a really good performance.”