Ben and Alex Toolis to make history with first joint start

Ben, right, and Alex Toolis will be the first twins to start a game for a Scottish professional team. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
Ben, right, and Alex Toolis will be the first twins to start a game for a Scottish professional team. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
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The players of French side Agen may be suffering from double vision tonight without any need to go for concussion testing.

The Toolis brothers, Ben and Alex, will start together as the Edinburgh second row for the first time in the European Challenge Cup Pool 5 match at BT Murrayfield, making history as the first pair of twins to play for a Scottish professional team.

The Australia-born siblings are Scottish rugby’s most high-profile twins since the Calders, Jim and Finlay, whose Test careers famously never crossed – the latter replacing the former in the Scotland back-row as they picked up a Grand Slam apiece in 1984 and 1990.

The Toolises, 23, qualify for Scotland through their mother Linda, who hails from Carluke, and Ben won his first cap in the Six Nations match against Italy last year. They have played in the same teams from a young age growing up in Brisbane, and started for London Irish in an LV Cup match in November in 2013 when they were both there on loan.

However, their only previous time together on the pitch in Edinburgh colours was a brief and painful one as Alex came off the bench in the last 15 minutes at Treviso in September only for Ben to depart after their first scrum with the elbow injury which kept him out until the 1872 Cup double-header against Glasgow.

That misfortune for Ben, who is the elder twin by three or four minutes – “I definitely cherish that,” he says – opened a door for his “younger” brother as Alex was able to get his most sustained run in the Edinburgh team since arriving from Queensland in the summer of 2013.

Ben replaced Alex in the first 1872 clash but, with Anton Bresler receiving a well-earned break this weekend, they will pack down together in a much-changed team tonight as Edinburgh look to keep their hopes of reaching the Challenge Cup knock-out stage alive.

“It’s pretty cool and exciting to be the first set of twins to do that,” said Alex of tonight’s little piece of history. “We played together at school and outside of school when we were younger growing up in Brisbane. Then we came over here and have enjoyed it and it’s good to get the opportunity. It would have been good to do it a bit earlier but I’m looking forward to it.”

It is Scotland internationalist Ben who will be playing the senior role tonight, calling the lineouts. “Last season I was calling them. I’ve got that little bit more experience I guess and they’ve given the nod for this one,” said Ben.

The Six Nations training squad is announced next week but, after missing most of the season with that elbow injury, which flared up again last week, he is more concerned with getting back to business for his club.

“To be honest I just want to get back playing for Edinburgh. I’ve been out for a while,” he said. “I’m more concerned with finding form and playing more regularly here but if that comes up then obviously I’m up for the challenge. But I’m just looking to find form for Edinburgh and whatever comes up after that... happy days.”

Coach Alan Solomons has made 11 changes from the side that beat Treviso in the Pro12 last Friday, resting many of his frontline players.

Fit-again hooker Stuart McInally, whose contract extension to May 2018 was confirmed yesterday, will captain the side, while Mike Allen and Andries Strauss form a new-look centre partnership as Matt Scott gets a week off. Sean Kennedy replaces Sam Hidalgo-Clyne at scrum-half and teams up with stand-off Greig Tonks.

The young trio of Magnus Bradbury, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson form the back row. Solomons made similar sweeping changes for the trip to London Irish earlier in the campaign and it resulted in a six-tries-to-nil 38-6 hiding, but the coach said: “The guys were disappointed with that. That was an opportunity and it put a question mark over our strength in depth. So we have a chance to rectify that now. I think we are better than we showed down there. We had a bad day at the office.

“We have to win otherwise we’re gone, it’s as simple as that. We know that. But I’ve got confidence in this team and I have a good feeling.”

Solomons eased fears over Scotland loosehead Al Dickinson, who has been out for a number of weeks with a calf injury, saying he was hopeful he’d be fine by next week.