As one of five players in the Scotland squad who have yet to experience any time on the pitch at this year’s World Cup, lock Ben Toolis expressed understandable frustration and a desire to get the chance to take that out on Russia in Shizuoka on Wednesday.
The Edinburgh forward, team-mate Blair Kinghorn, hooker George Turner, centre Pete Horne and called-up scrum-half Henry Pyrgos are the quintet champing at the bit and Toolis admits the worst part of it has been that he feels he hasn’t done anything wrong since he started the Six Nations-ending Calcutta Cup epic at Twickenham ahead of Jonny Gray.
“If I’m being honest, it’s been really frustrating,” said the 27-year-old Brisbane-born second row, who now has 21 caps.
“The last couple of years the main goal has been to get to a World Cup. You put in the hard work, you play consistently well, but there is a lot of competition in the second row.
“That’s sport at the end of the day and boys are going to miss out. You have to be a good team-mate at that point and make sure everyone else has prepared well.
“It’s tough, but you have to try and help the team get a result and that’s what I have been trying to do.”
With the well-documented four-day turnaround from the Russian game into the tumult of that Yokohama shoot-out with hosts Japan, who are riding a crest of a wave following three pool wins including the stunner against Ireland and today’s bonus-point victory over Samoa, Scotland are expected to ring the changes when the team is named on Monday.
“Hopefully I’ll get my opportunity on Wednesday, if I do I will put my heart into it,” said the lock, who hasn’t even made the squad so far, with Glasgow’s Scott Cummings backing up Grant Gilchrist and Gray off the bench.
“I’ll try and have a really good game and try and help the team reach the quarter-finals. I’ll definitely play my part if I get my chance.”
Toolis also started the first warm-up Test against France in Nice, which ended in a 32-3 defeat, and the away match in Georgia, before a sub appearance against the same opposition at BT Murrayfield a week later at the start of last month.
“I don’t think my performance levels have dropped to be honest with you,” he said. “I feel like I have played consistently well. I can be very hard on myself when I know I’ve not been performing.
“I have had stages in my career where I haven’t been playing well and you have to be honest with yourself. This time I don’t feel as though I’ve had a dip in form.
“I’ve been playing well, Gregor just wanted something different off the bench. Grant Gilchrist and Jonny Gray have been playing really well.
“You take confidence from the fact all the second rows are good players. It’s tough, but that’s life.
“You do get feedback from the coaches. But it’s not been with anything I have done wrong, they have just been rewarding other boys.”
Toolis’s Edinburgh team-mate Magnus Bradbury, meanwhile, has had his taste of the action and in spectacular style as he, clubmate Jamie Ritchie and Scarlets’ Blade Thomson formed a formidable loose-forward unit in the 34-0 rout of Samoa last Monday.
Back row is an area that will be giving the coaching team the biggest headache as they try to balance picking a side to do the necessary against Russia on Wednesday - a bonus-point win, ideally by as many points as possible - with protecting the players who will be called upon to try and snuff out the Japan fairytale in the Yokohama cauldron on the Sunday. The experienced duo of John Barclay and Ryan Wilson await in the wings, while hooker Fraser Brown is also an openside option but a double shift for someone, be it off the bench or starting both the remaining two pool games.
“Regardless of how long the turnaround is, you still have to perform,” said Bradbury. “That’s why we’re professional sports people. If we have excuses like that to why we’re not performing then where are we? We’ll play hard this week, recover as well as we can and then go out there a put in another big shift.
“We’ve not talked about it positionally, but as a team. We’ve got guys here for in nutrition, recovery and strength and conditioning, we know that when it comes down to it we have the best possible support to handle that four-day turnaround and put out best game out there. Regardless of how we’re feeling, we have to do that.”
Bradbury is enthusiastic if it is he who is the man asked to back up.
“Yes, I feel like I would be ready,” said the forward, who spent most of the summer injured and only came into the official squad when Hamish Watson was injured in the opener against Ireland.
“I don’t know what selection is yet but it comes down to recovery again. Whether you’re starting or off the bench in that last game you’ll be looking to recover well, depending on how many minutes you play. In this Russia game it might vary, but I feel mentally ready to do it.”
Asked if it might be something easier to contemplate for the younger players in the squad, Bradbury smiled and said: “Ask a few of the older boys. They’re always complaining about the aches and pains they have. But I guess that’ll play a part for me as well going into this week.”
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