TIM Swinson insists that he feels nothing but sympathy for Richie Gray, who damaged tendons in his arm against Wales on Sunday afternoon and will miss the remainder of this season’s RBS Six Nations campaign as result.
However, the 28-year-old Scotland lock knows from bitter experience that there is no time in professional rugby to pause and reflect on the plight of a fallen comrade. He must act quickly and decisively to make sure that Gray’s loss becomes his own gain.
Swinson got the call on Monday morning telling him that he would be taking Gray’s place in the Scotland training squad, and he is now determined to recapture the spot near the top of the national team’s second-row pecking order which he relinquished after suffering a back twinge two days before he was due to sit on the bench against world champions New Zealand back in November.
That injury meant he also missed the following week’s encounter against Tonga at Rugby Park in Kilmarnock.
It was a bitter pill to swallow but Swinson refused to be downtrodden by his wretched luck, so when he returned to club action with Glasgow Warriors he was determined to make up for lost time, and he initially made a pretty good fist of getting his career trajectory back on target when he was involved in seven of his club’s next eight matches.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS
But he then suffered a tear in his calf muscle during their Heineken Cup clash with Montpellier five weeks ago, and it looked like that would cost him another opportunity to add to the nine caps he has already accumulated in the dark blue jersey of Scotland.
“It was a really crap injury to get. I was running away from the line-out, not doing anything interesting, and I got a stabbing pain in my leg,” he said.
“But injuries happen in rugby, it is part of life, and if you focus on the negative stuff you get dragged down into a negative spiral which doesn’t help anyone – and I suppose I had that a little bit when the Scotland squad for the Six Nations was announced and I was injured. But I knew that all I could do focus on my rehab and my training, because I just wanted to get back playing again as soon as possible.
“And it was great that I was able to do that at the weekend for Glasgow, especially as it was a bit earlier than I thought it would happen, and it gave me the chance to be here [in the Scotland squad] now.”
After more than a month of not playing a competitive game there is clearly a danger that Swinson may not quite be fit enough yet to make the step up to international rugby – and with Jonny Gray, Jim Hamilton and Ben Toolis also vying for two second-row slots and a spot on the bench against Italy at BT Murrayfield in nine days’ time, there is no great imperative for national head coach Vern Cotter to throw the smallest of those four candidates back in at the deep end.
However, Swinson says he is quietly confident that he is ready for whatever comes his way.
He explained: “The rehab and strength programmes I have been doing with Stuart Yule [the Glasgow Warriors strength and conditioning coach] have been fantastic.
“I felt fantastic during the game against Zebre at the weekend which was a bit of a shock to me. And although I felt terrible after 80 minutes, it was not as terrible as I thought I would feel. It is good to see that if you work hard when you are injured you can hold on to what you had beforehand.”
An added bonus for Swinson from that return to the action with the Warriors was that he crossed the whitewash for one of his team’s eight tries in a 54-10 victory, but the real significance of his exertions on Sunday afternoon was that he lasted the full 80 minutes.
He will hope to put in another big shift when the Warriors have an opportunity to reinforce their position at the top of the Guinness Pro 12 table against third placed Ospreys at home this Saturday.
While most of the contenders for the Italy game will be given the weekend off, Swinson knows that he needs to get as much game time under his belt as possible if he is to be given a chance to settle some unfinished business against Italy in Edinburgh next weekend.
“I got my second cap against them when we beat them in South Africa back in the summer of 2013, but then I sat on the bench against them in the last Six Nations and didn’t get on,” he recalled.
“It was one of the most depressing feelings. At the end Richie Gray and Ryan Wilson were both struggling with injury but they didn’t know which one to take off in case the other one collapsed and in the end neither did.
“I can understand why it happened but it does not make it any easier to deal with after the game – so it would be nice to get a run out against them this time round. But we’ll just have to wait and see what the coaches decide.”