Scotland centre Duncan Taylor has said “desperation is the word” as he looks to put a luckless few years behind him and make this year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan.
The Saracens man has been going full tilt at Scotland’s warm-weather training camp in the Algarve this week and, despite not playing a single second of rugby last season, has said he is “confident” he could play a match now if asked and believes he can make it to a first World Cup.
After having his 2017-18 season written off by a long-term head injury, 29-year-old Taylor, who won 21 Scotland caps between 2013 and 2017, was back and raring to go this time last year. A freak injury in a pre-season game for his club wrecked his left knee and another full season was lost.
“Desperation is probably the right word,” he said yesterday after the most intense session of the week in the south of Portugal.
“I’m desperate to go to a World Cup and play for Scotland in one. It’s the pinnacle. Something you dream of. The last one didn’t quite work out. I’ll have fingers and toes and everything crossed. I still have to prove to the coaches that I’m at the right level to be taken to a World Cup. I’m confident I’ll get there.”
Taylor missed the 2015 World Cup squad with a calf injury - one of a series of misfortunes since the Northampton-born midfielder with Scottish parents starred in Scotland A’s historic first ever away win over England A [Saxons] at Newcastle in early 2013, and then went on to make the full national squad for that summer’s tour of South Africa.
When he has been fully fit he has put in some superb showings at Test level, including magnificent tries in the home Six Nations win over France in 2016 and the famous away triumph over Australia in Sydney on the 2017 summer tour.
The latest setback, sustained while playing for Saracens A against the Exeter second string last September, has been the toughest one to take, he admitted.
“I got tackled and landed on my knee. My knee hyper-extended one way. I tore my ACL, MCL, PCL [ligaments] and meniscus [cartilage]. It was the whole lot!
“I managed to get a couple of weeks of training [with Saracens] under my belt before the end of the season.
“I got a full week’s training under my belt in the final week of last season. And I have done quite a bit coming back into the Scotland set-up.
“I am desperate for a game now. It is always hard being out and watching everybody play and wishing you were out there. The feeling to be out there playing doesn’t change and makes me more hungry to get out there.”
The World Cup warm-up matches against France and Georgia in August and early September have been earmarked by Scotland boss Gregor Townsend as the chance for Taylor to get some game time, and the player admits it will be the perfect try-out for him after so long on the sidelines.
“Yeah, absolutely. I need to prove I can train fully with the guys and that I’m match fit, play to the best of my ability,” he said. “Hopefully these next few weeks of training will help, conditioning wise, so I can take all the strain of international rugby and see what I can do.”
Long-term injury is always a dark time for a professional sportsman but Taylor said any thoughts of chucking it never arose.
“I never got to that point. At the end of last season I had full confidence that this was my season I was going to get back into things,” he continues.
“My body was feeling good going into that season and I was like ‘This is it, the first time I’ve been going into a season feeling alright’.
“Then that happened in that game. It was just a kick, one of those things that happen.
“It was a freak accident, not like an injury I’ve had before, so it wasn’t going to finish me off. I was very confident and our [Saracens] strength and conditioning guys and physios have worked so hard to get me back to being able to play and get involved in this World Cup. I’m very grateful to be in this position.”
Taylor is also grateful for the way he was kept very much part of the Saracens set-up as the dominant London club, who he has been with for eight years, charged to another glory season by winning the Heineken Champions Cup and English Premiership double.
“The club is amazing at making you feel involved,” said Taylor, who was kept involved in those big finals pre-match...and, of course the subsequent celebrations.
“The fact that they let me come in, sit on the bench and do the warm-up with the boys is testament.
“They’ve really made me feel a part of it as well. It was obviously a long journey [to win the double] and I was gutted to not be involved.
“But I was buzzing for the ones who were and were able to get over the line and win a European Cup and Premiership.”
Saracens are Europe’s benchmark currently but Taylor laughs it off when asked if he and clubmate Sean Maitland were spending their time in Scotland camp being mined for information on the secrets of their success.
“It’s not like that,” he said. “Every team is different and all squads go about their business differently. There’s bits from Sarries, Glasgow, Edinburgh and other clubs around the world. They all filter into an international team and they’re very good at that here.”