Hooker George Turner admitted he was “as surprised as anyone” to be facing the media in Scotland kit at the Oriam training base yesterday after his unexpected call-up to Gregor Townsend’s summer tour squad.
The 24-year-old’s solitary start for Edinburgh came just last month but this week he has found himself rubbing shoulders with the nation’s finest as Townsend’s reign has got properly going with a three-week training camp ahead of next month’s Tests against Italy in Singapore, Australia and Fiji in Suva.
“I was as surprised as anyone that I was named in the squad,” he said. “When I saw the text I thought it was a wind-up a little bit but then I started to get messages from other boys congratulating me. For some reason they [the Scotland coaches] like the way I play. I’m an aggressive and a dynamic ball carrier and I’ve tried to show that in training.”
The Stew-Mel product has been a highly regarded prospect for some time but has found himself stuck frustratingly at the back of an Edinburgh hooker logjam. As well as cap centurion Ross Ford and club co-captain Stuart McInally, Turner has had to contend with veteran Neil Cochrane for the No 2 jersey.
During a stint at London Scottish this season he gained some valuable game time and incoming Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill had a say in getting him that start against the Dragons at the end of April, but Turner admits it has been a trying experience.
“ ‘Frustrating’ is the word for the last few years,” he said. “Alan Solomons came in and changed the structure to have more of a focus on the forwards. We had Ross Ford there and Neil Cochrane came in followed by Stuart McInally who changed from the back row. They all seem to be captains so it has been frustrating.
“I have always tried to train hard and get into the team but it has been frustrating. They were looking to win games and may have felt a bit under pressure so they were sticking with what they knew.
“I understand that to a point but then I was a good player and with a couple of years could have been further developed from where I am now and maybe could have had a Scotland cap a couple of years ago.
“I knew I lacked experience at the professional level. I have played a bit at London Scottish, which did wonders for my confidence and my rugby. I came back but didn’t play. I did get a couple of games and I felt I played quite well but then nothing until the couple of games at the end of the season. You can train all you like but you have got to play, it is about doing it on the day.”
Turner is renowned for having the pace and skillset not normally associated with front-rowers. He actually made his Edinburgh debut on the wing against Leinster in October 2014, replacing Dougie Fife, making a great break and providing an outstanding assist to tryscorer Tomas Leonardi. With a history of propping and back-row he brings that valuable versatility and, when naming his tour squad, Townsend singled him out as someone who “plays the kind of rugby we want to play”.
Turner is keen to seize this wonderful chance which has presented itself to help him make that long-awaited breakthrough as a consistent performer at professional and Test level.
“This is a massive opportunity that I am trying to take as much as I can,” he agreed. “I cannot go through another frustrating year not getting any game time. I was in some dark places last year but hopefully I will improve enough that I can compete with Fordy and Stuart especially. At the end of this I will be a better player and will take that forward.
“I hope I will get a cap and then I can play a little bit more and keep building.”
Turner has taken heart from the conversations he has had with Cockerill, pictured, himself a former England hooker, and is looking forward to pushing on at Edinburgh, where he has another season on his contract.
“I had heard through the grapevine that he was a fan of the way I play, dynamic and aggressive,” added Turner. “A couple of times when we talked he was saying that he liked I was a local boy from Edinburgh, young-ish and not the biggest hooker in Scottish rugby but still able to compete. I think that was all positive.
“Change is good and then to be told that the coach really likes the way you play is a good confidence boost.”