Grant Gilchrist is one of only four of the current Edinburgh squad to have experienced top-level European competition prior to last Saturday but admitted that his last taste was so long ago it all feels new again.
The 28-year-old lock, who was named in Scotland’s autumn Test squad on Wednesday, was part of the group that made a surprise run to the Heineken Cup semi-finals back in 2012 and, after an eventful six years since, relished last weekend’s tight 21-15 loss away at Montpellier in the Pool 5 opener.
Ahead of tomorrow’s crunch clash at home to Toulon, Gilchrist said of that 2012 run: “That was my first season of professional competitive rugby. I’ve been through a lot since then.”
That “lot” includes a series of injury setbacks but also 25 Scotland caps and the Alloa man believes there can be things to draw on from that campaign six years ago, which saw tight pool wins against London Irish and Racing Metro, a quarter-final toppling of Toulouse and narrow semi-final loss to Ulster. Matt Scott, Stuart McInally and Ross Ford are the other survivors from that season.
“It’s hard to draw comparisons,” said Gilchrist. “But the one thing we have to understand was that it was fine margins that got us through on that occasion.
“We won games by a point a couple of times, two points once or twice and that doesn’t change. You’ve got to win the tight games and when you get the things that matter right at the right times, those plays, finishing off opportunities, or defensive sets, they really count because you don’t often see teams not playing at their best at this level.
“That’s one thing that stands out as being the same. It’s going to be tightly contested and every minute matters throughout the whole game.”
Gilchrist had a chance after last Saturday’s match to catch up with Montpellier coach Vern Cotter, the man who named him as his 2016 autumn Test series captain before injury cruelly intervened.
“He was his usual, didn’t give much away,” said Gilchrist with a smile. “He moaned about the referee. He said he thought we played well and they might have been a little bit lucky to hang on in the end.”
Gilchrist is confident that it will be Edinburgh who emerge satisfied tomorrow against a three-time European champion Toulon side who are wobbling a bit after a bad start to the Top 14 and rare home loss to Newcastle Falcons in their pool opener last weekend.
“I think you have to win your home games at this level, if you want to get out of the pool,” said Gilchrist. “But we’re understanding that it’s not a gimme, it’s not a turn up and win, it’s going to be a hugely physical challenge against a Toulon side that will be looking for a reaction and I’m sure we’ll see a reaction from them on Saturday.
“So, we’re going to have to be better than we were at the weekend which is what we aim to do every week, be better than we were the week before. If we do that we believe we can come away with the win, but we’re understanding the size of the challenge as well.”