Alasdair Dickinson will make his first Edinburgh appearance of the calendar year against the Ospreys at Myreside tonight, and if he survives that challenge unscathed then a dramatic recall for Scotland’s Triple Crown decider with England next weekend could be on the cards.
The 33-year-old has suffered an injury-ravaged season, having missed the start of the campaign with a hamstring tear picked up on Scotland’s summer tour to Japan. He then managed only 131 minutes of rugby over three games during an aborted comeback in late December, before being sidelined for another two months with a broken bone in his foot suffered while playing against Glasgow on Boxing Day.
Throwing him back in at the deep end next weekend would be a big call for Scotland head coach Vern Cotter, but desperate times often call for desperate measures.
Scotland have enjoyed a very positive start to this Six Nations campaign, but their scrum has been a cause for major concern. Allan Dell wore the No 1 jersey in the opening two games but struggled to cope with the physicality of Ireland and France when the two packs locked horns.
Scotland got away with it in the first of those two games, largely because there were only six scrums in the whole match and only one after the 23rd minute, but they were blown away against France a week later. Gordon Reid of Glasgow was promoted to the starting team against Wales last weekend and stood up well before tiring around the hour mark.
If Scotland are still in the Twickenham match going into the final quarter next weekend then they are going to face a furious English onslaught, and a scrum which is either back-pedalling at a rate of knots or coughing up penalties would be cataclysmic to their prospects.
Having a player of Dickinson’s experience and expertise coming on to steady the set-piece during the final 20 minutes would be a huge boost. It is undoubtedly a gamble, but Scotland are not going to claim a first win at Twickenham since 1983 by playing it safe.
Frustratingly for Cotter, Dickinson was not quite ready to take the field against Cardiff last weekend, which would have given the player some more valuable game time to get back up to speed.
“We knew he was always going to be ready around this time, maybe a week earlier or later, and it is great to have him back,” said Edinburgh’s acting head coach Duncan Hodge, before fielding the inevitable question about his readiness to return to the international fold.
“I have no idea. Just having him back in the squad with us and ready to get some rugby is great. We will see how long he lasts out there on Friday night – we can’t push that. Hopefully he plays well, gets his confidence up and goes from there,” replied Hodge.
“In terms of the last nine months his rugby has been extremely limited and I think we will know more on Friday night. Certainly in December when he played those three games he was a bit rusty, and he may not be rusty tomorrow night but I think it would be a big ask [to play against England].
“He is medically clear and fit, it is just match fitness that is the issue. As we all know it is all very well running around, but it is a different story mauling, rucking, making tackles and such like.
“I suspect he won’t be playing 80, but we don’t have any markers. We know roughly where we think he will be at, but we will see how it goes.”
From an Edinburgh perspective, Dickinson’s return comes at just the right time, with the team in desperate need of an injection of positive energy after last Friday’s demoralising late capitulation at home to Cardiff.
“He has been there and done it and that is where Dicko helps,” said Hodge. “Some of our younger guys have had great exposure that we never foresaw and that has been great, but we have been lacking the leadership skills that Dicko brings. He has nous and knowledge and puts an arm round the shoulder and says this is how we are going to solve the problem – so hopefully he brings that.”
Dickinson steps into the gap created by the loss of Jack Cosgrove with an ankle injury which is expected to keep him out for the next six weeks.
Hodge has added further experience to his starting pack in the shape of former Scotland captain Grant Gilchrist in the second row, who has been away training with the national set-up but is desperate to get some game time under his belt as he looks to recover the form which made him one of the hottest properties in Scottish rugby before injury wiped out the best part of two years of his career.