Ben Toolis ready to be a leader for club and country

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More than two years elapsed between Ben Toolis’s first and second Scotland appearances but this season he has emerged as a key player with hopes of adding to what is now a haul of seven caps.

The Edinburgh lock made his Scotland debut off the bench in the Six Nations against Italy back in 2015 and, after featuring in all six games of the summer tour and autumn Tests, is relishing another taste of the world’s oldest international tournament.

Edinburgh's Ben Toolis looks ahead to the European Challenge Cup game against Stade Francais. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU

Edinburgh's Ben Toolis looks ahead to the European Challenge Cup game against Stade Francais. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS/SRU

It has been a breakthrough season for the 25-year-old which has led to him being handed extra responsibility at club level by coach Richard Cockerill.

“At the start of the season I spoke to Cockers and I have spoken to him a few times and he wants me to take more of a leadership role and develop myself as one of the main players in the pack and a lineout leader,” said Toolis.

“He wants me to take that leadership role which is good for me because I enjoy trying to develop more of a talking role in the team and it is good because it takes my game forward. I am enjoying doing it and it makes my game better.

“You can only benefit from adding bits to your game. I ran the lineout in the autumn Tests and then back here at Edinburgh and you can always improve so it is quite important, it builds confidence up. It develops you as a player and as a person.”

Toolis is currently focused on tomorrow night’s European Challenge Cup pool clash with Stade Francais at BT Murrayfield, where a win would be enough to secure a home quarter-final.

Edinburgh then travel to Paris for the second part of a double header with the holders, who have taken a lukewarm approach to their defence of the trophy as they flirt with danger in the French Top 14. With the Six Nations squad announced on Tuesday, Toolis admits that the opportunity to get some rest time is another motivating factor for getting the job done tomorrow night.

“If we get the win in the first game then maybe the coaches will rotate things and Lewis Carmichael and Callum Hunter-Hill may get a chance and that would be good ahead of the Six Nations when they may be needed [by Edinburgh] even more,” said Toolis, who will hope to be joined in Gregor Townsend’s squad by second-row partner Grant Gilchrist. The pair have formed an effective partnership and Toolis is delighted to see his mate back to his best after a difficult few years.

“Grant struggled in recent seasons and found it hard to come back from injury as anyone would because it was a tough injury he had,” said Toolis. “He has found his feet again, we are working really well together especially in the lineout so he is playing really well and there is a lot of competition at second-row with Edinburgh and Scotland which is what you want.”

Gilchrist literally found his feet last Friday when some silky soccer skills helped him score the first try in a 37-7 rout of Southern Kings in the Guinness Pro14 at Myreside.

“It was a good laugh,” said Toolis of the neat flick of the boot which saw the towering lock beat the last defender. “Cockers just thought it was way too good and hadn’t seen much of that before from him and asked for more of it. It was a good try.”

Edinburgh forwards should be well represented in the Scotland squad again, with a potential new face in the form of 21-year-old tighthead Murray McCallum, who could benefit from the current front-row injury crisis.

“He is young, he is hungry and he always does well when he gets a chance [with Edinburgh],” said Toolis of his young team-mate. “He has been working closely with Dicko [injured veteran loosehead prop Al Dickinson] and learning from his world class experience. Muz is playing both sides of the scrum too, tighthead is obviously the issue [with Scotland] at the minute so I am sure he can come in and do a good job.

“It would be really good experience for him even if he is in and around the squad and just learning from everyone and a good forwards coach [Dan McFarland]. It will be a difficult thing, but I am sure he will do well and I certainly have no doubts about his ability.”