KYLE Traynor may only be making his first start in a Scotland Test match this afternoon, but he is long enough in the tooth that he was not going to pretend that he had given up hope of this day coming.
The 26-year-old came off the bench against Fiji, Australia and Argentina, which resulted in two wins and a defeat, at a time when his form at Edinburgh and injuries pushed him up the pecking order. But, at the end of last season, there was no contract renewal on the table for the loosehead prop and he was fearful of where his rugby career was going when English Championship side Bristol stepped in with an offer.
“I definitely thought that it [another cap] had maybe passed me by,” he said. “It looked like a long way away… and was the last thing on my mind [at the end of the season] to be honest. I was looking for a new club and, fortunately, Bristol came in for me. Rugby is a fickle game and things can change in a short space of time. Fortunately, it has changed in a good way for me.
“I believe in myself, I worked hard and I was honest with myself. Sometimes you get opportunities and it’s about how you take them. Now I’m here and I believe this is a massive opportunity for me.” He was quick to pay tribute to his former Edinburgh teammate Allan ‘Chunk’ Jacobsen, whose retirement from Test rugby after the All Blacks game has effectively opened the door for Traynor.
“Chunk has been hugely important in my career,” he acknowledged. “Ever since I first met him as an 18/19-year-old, he has always helped me and given me loads of advice.
“I got my first opportunities at Edinburgh through Chunk being injured and he would speak to me about the guy I was up against that week and really helped me along. He is a great bloke. I have a lot of respect for him. I spoke to him at the tail end of last week and he told me I had a massive opportunity and that I should make the most of it.”
Since leaving Edinburgh, the red-headed forward has become a firm part of the Shoguns’ front row and admitted yesterday that not only was he enjoying a first run of games in years but the faith Bristol had shown in him was turning him into a better player.
The Championship has a reputation for particularly rugged and powerful set-piece play – at the expense of quality rugby elsewhere often – and Traynor agreed that that had helped provide the confidence he needed to take on a big Tongan pack this afternoon. “There is a great infrastructure at Bristol and some great coaches who have backed me and worked hard with me in the short time I have been there and I owe a lot to them. I have also played against some really good tightheads in the championship. They are physically a lot bigger and more capable at scrum time, although they maybe do not have the all-round game of guys at the higher level. But in the set plays it is a very tough league from what I’ve experienced so far.
“I did start a lot of games [at Edinburgh] in the World Cup period last year; I just spent a lot of time on the bench which was very frustrating, but I have been able to play 80 minutes every week when I’ve been available for Bristol and that’s been great. It has massively improved my rugby, getting the week-in week-out collisions and scrums, and my match fitness has really kicked on. Now, I just want to make the most of this opportunity. I’m sure it will be awesome. It’s great that it’s sold-out and great to be up here [in Aberdeen], and I’m sure the locals and the crowd will get behind us.”