GREIG Tonks is back where he wants to be: starting at stand-off for Edinburgh.
Having initially established himself at the club as a full-back, he first wore the No 10 jersey exactly a year ago on Monday, when he played a key role in the shock victory over English giants Gloucester in the Heineken Cup.
He had played at first receiver during his formative years in the Leicester Tigers Academy and during the next few weeks showed that he was having no problem relearning old tricks – so much so that by the time the 2014 Six Nations came around he had emerged as a genuine contender for full international recognition at stand-off.
However, a shoulder injury sustained while playing for Scotland A against England Saxons at the start of February brought a premature end to his season, and his luck did not improve at the start of the current campaign. After running the backline in both the club’s pre-season matches against Leicester Tigers and Newcastle Falcons he injured his groin during the warm-up for the first league game of the campaign.
It looked like his flirtation with the stand-off role might have come to a premature end when he returned to the team in September as a full-back, with head coach Alan Solomons refusing to be drawn on where he saw the player playing in the medium to long term.
With Tom Heathcote and Phil Bureligh having been recruited in the summer, it looked like he might be more valuable to the team at full-back. However, Tonks insists he was never in any doubt as to where he wanted to play.
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“I am looking at playing fly-half but can play full-back as well. I played the first two pre-season games at fly-half with a view to playing there and then I got injured. When I came back Alan wanted to play me at full-back to get game time and to get fit again. I’ve done that and now I am back focusing at ten,” he said. “There is serious competition there but I started the season as first choice fly-half before I got injured and hopefully I will get back to there.”
When Tonks first began his flirtation with the stand-off role there was a general consensus that this was a position where Scotland was seriously short of options – but a lot can change in a year. Since then, Finn Russell of Glasgow Warriors has emerged as a cool-headed and tenacious star in the making, while Duncan Weir showed plenty of nerve when belting home a 35-yard drop-goal to secure a last-minute victory over Italy at the end of the Six Nations.
“That doesn’t change my thinking at all. It is healthy competition but you have to be confident in yourself. There is always going to be competition so you have to back yourself,” Tonks shrugged.
So, after four consecutive starts at full-back, followed by a couple of cameos off the bench, Tonks now has a chance to remind us of what he can do as chief conductor of the Edinburgh backline, when they take-on London Welsh in the European Challenge Cup at the Kassam Stadium tomorrow afternoon.
It should, in theory, be the ideal opportunity for Tonks to showcase his attacking skills. The opposition have not won a competitive match all season, and up until last weekend their average losing margin had been 35 points.
However, they gave Edinburgh a real run for their money last Sunday, in the first leg of this double-header, before the Scottish side managed to run out 28-13 victors – and Tonks insisted that his team will need to up their game this weekend.
He is hoping to make the same sort of impact from the start as he did when appearing as a second-half replacement six days ago. “The first half was quite poor. The coaches said I had to get on and bring a bit of tempo and get the game going. There were a lot of mistakes in the first half. We didn’t get much momentum. It was good to come on and turn things around a bit,” he said.
“There was massive disappointment from the weekend. Looking at how London Welsh have done this season – losing by 40-50 points – maybe that is part of what made the boys a bit complacent when they came to Murrayfield. They gave us a bit of a fright in the first half.”
Neil Cochrane has been rewarded for a try scoring appearance off the bench with a first start for the club at hooker, while Sam Hidalgo-Clyne replaces Grayson Hart at scrum-half and Jack Cuthbert returns to the side at full-back.
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