Brisbane-born and raised, it comes as no surprise to hear that Ben Toolis’s boyhood dream was to pull on the gold and green of the Wallabies. But he insists he would “give everything” to beat the land of his birth should he get a chance in Sydney next month.
The Edinburgh lock has been rewarded with a Scotland recall for a strong personal season which was in stark contrast to the wider travails of his club and saw him included in the Guinness Pro12 Dream Team.
The 25-year-old’s solitary cap came in that maddening home defeat to Italy in the 2015 Six Nations with a brief cameo off the bench that was curtailed by a yellow card as the Azzurri snatched victory at the end of the game and sent the Scots spiralling to a wooden spoon whitewash.
Toolis has patiently waited for another chance and has been preferred to his club captain Grant Gilchrist by new Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, pictured below, for next month’s soujourn to the southern hemisphere.
The fact that no second row has been added to the remaining trio following Richie Gray’s injury withdrawal makes it almost certain Toolis will double his cap tally. That may come with another clash against the Italians in the first Test of the tour in Singapore on 10 June but, understandably, it is that meeting with the Aussies the following Saturday that Toolis really wants to play a part in.
“It would be strange but also very special,” he said of the possibility.
“I did grow up wanting to play for the Wallabies. But I knew my second option was to come over here with my strong Scottish heritage. I’m happy to wear the thistle and playing against the Wallabies would be quite surreal for me, but special, and I’d definitely give everything I could to try and beat those guys.”
Toolis, who is Scottish qualified through his mother Linda from Carluke, joined Edinburgh from Queensland club side GPS Old Boys in 2013 and was joined for a while in the capital by his twin brother Alex, who has since returned Down Under to join Melbourne Rebels. There could be familiar faces in the opposition ranks if the lock does get the nod for that Saturday afternoon Test at the Sydney Football Stadium.
“Yeah, I played club with Samu Kerevi, the centre, and went to school with Nick Frisby. He’s one of my good mates from home and I trained in the academy with Rory Arnold,” explained Toolis.
“I don’t know to be honest [what the reaction would be if I played against them], it might be a bit weird on the pitch. When they were over for the autumn Tests they knew I was in and around the squad and that I was hoping to get a chance in the summer. I think it will be a friendly reaction, pleased for each other, and hopefully we have a good game.”
Toolis said he was pleased to have made the tour squad on merit and not as a consequence of one of the Gray brothers being selected for the Lions.
“It’s probably tough that Jonny didn’t make the Lions tour, but that being said, I’m happy to have made the tour with him still being in the picture,” said Toolis. “It’s exciting that I’m in the mix. It’s unfortunate for Richie that he’s not going on [Scotland] tour, but that opens the door for boys like myself to try and get some game time.
“I’m quite excited about it. I’m pleased to be a part of it. Obviously it’s Gregor’s first time in. I’m happy with the way I’ve been playing so I’m proud to be part of his first squad. I’m looking forward to the tour, specially going to the Southern Hemisphere, which is where I was born and bred.
“There’s a lot of Glasgow boys here, so we’ve been speaking to them and learning how Gregor works, and [new forwards coach] Dan [McFarland] as well, the new staff coming in. We’ve adapted well to it. Working with Duncan Hodge, I feel like Gregor is similar in the way they coach. I’m really enjoying both Dan and Gregor – the way they want to play suits the way I want to play.”