ALTHOUGH there were some positives in Scotland’s recent Six Nations campaign there was no getting away from the fact that five defeats from five was a hugely disappointing outcome.
It is perhaps perverse then to suggest that, for some of those involved, the experience has provided a spring in the step and resulted in a surge of confidence rather than a plunge into depression. That, however, is the case for the emerging group of young talent who head coach Vern Cotter blooded throughout the tournament.
Defeats are always hard to take, but they may be a little less painful when you are at the start of your career than the end, and you can look forward with youthful optimism and believe that better things surely lie ahead.
For the Edinburgh quartet of Greig Tonks, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Hamish Watson and Ben Toolis, the Six Nations was something to savour rather than an ordeal to be endured and the boost it provided has helped the team in their push for a top-six place in the Guinness Pro12 and propelled them to tomorrow night’s European Challenge Cup semi-final against Newport Gwent Dragons.
Tonks, the former England age-grade player who qualifies for Scotland through his Ayrshire-born mother, loved every minute of his time with the national squad and his cameos off the bench. He made his Test debut in the tour loss in Samoa two years ago but it was during the Six Nations that he began to feel properly part of the Scotland set-up.
“The past few months were massive for me,” said the 25-year-old. “It was my first involvement in the Six Nations and it was a big learning curve and learning experience. Learning just how crucial every single moment in every game is at that level. Sometimes, when you play week to week in the league mistakes can be covered up, whereas international rugby is a very ruthless environment. Guys like Ben, Sam and Hamish were getting their first caps so, for us, it gives us loads of confidence going back into our club rugby. When you get a taste of international rugby you want a little bit more and you try to use what you’ve learned to come back and help Edinburgh as well.”
“We’re fortunate to have a home semi-final and it’s a pretty damn good opportunity to get into a final”Greig Tonks
Tonks prefers to play at stand-off but the injury to Jack Cuthbert has seen his versatility deployed at full-back, the position in which he earned his first cap.
“I was due to play at ten [in the Challenge Cup quarter-final at London Irish] but Jack pulled out a week before last and when that happened they wanted me to play at full-back,” he explained. “It was a relatively easy transition as I have played a lot of rugby at 15.
“I do want to focus on playing ten and I enjoy playing ten. It is just these past couple of games because Jack was injured [coach] Alan [Solomons] wanted me to play 15. Alan knows I want to play ten and he wants me to play ten but it is just because of injuries that has forced that to happen. I guess it is good I am able to play regardless.”
Tonks happened to arrive from Northampton in Edinburgh for a medical in the week building up to the 2012 Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse so he got a small taste of that remarkable week for the club. He is keen to be part of something similar tomorrow night and help secure a place in a European final.
“We’re fortunate to have a home semi-final and it’s a pretty damn good opportunity to get into a final,” he said. “They [Dragons] are coming off a great result [beating Leinster] but up until last weekend [a 34-3 home loss to Munster] we have been doing pretty well as well. Having completed our debrief on Monday we are now fully focusing on the Dragons and I’ll be watching their game against Leinster this week.”
Tonks was involved when Edinburgh, who name their team today, beat the Dragons at BT Murrayfield in the league earlier in the season, but is expecting a far more intense occasion tomorrow.
“I played full-back in that game and it wasn’t particularly convincing,” he recalled. “It was a reasonable home win but they are a decent team and they are on a bit of a roll. We play them away in the league [on Friday 8 May] so we have a couple of encounters with them in the next few weeks. So you could say that the games against them will make or break our season.”
Just reaching the European final is the only thing on Edinburgh’s minds at the moment but Tonks does feel that winning some silverware would be tangible evidence that Solomons’ much talked about ‘work in progress’ is heading in the right direction.
“Yes, it definitely would,” he said. “Obviously people have been critical and quite rightly, there has been highs and lows and ups and downs. So it would be nice to have something we’ve worked for and something to show for it.”