Jon Petrie backs Gilchrist to come back stronger

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THE cruel twist of fate that saw Grant Gilchrist’s instalment as Scotland captain for the Autumn Test Series last just five days, before a fractured forearm ended the Edinburgh lock’s hopes of leading his country out for the first time is, sadly, not the first time a Scotland skipper has found the realisation of his dreams thwarted by misfortune.

A dislocated fibula while playing for Saracens in 2012 denied Kelly Brown the honour of leading his nation in the RBS Six Nations campaign two years ago, and seven years Jon Petrie – the former Glasgow leader – suffered a similar fate to Gilchrist.

Petrie had captained Scotland in victorious summer action against both Romania and the Barbarians as Frank Hadden’s new Scotland regime got off to a bright start. With Petrie pencilled in to lead the Scots into the Autumn International Series against Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand, a dislocated shoulder suffered while playing for Warriors ended the flanker’s brief captaincy and saw Jason White step into the breach.

But while admitting Gilchrist’s injury has given Scotland head coach Vern Cotter an unwanted headache ahead of his first Autumn Test Series, Petrie is confident that the 24-year-old former Stirling County second-row will come again.

“I can sympathise fully with what Grant is going through. There is no greater honour than to be named captain of your country and for a Test series that includes the visit of New Zealand to Murrayfield, it would have been a fantastic prospect for him,” admitted Petrie.

“But obviously fate has conspired to rob Grant of that opportunity. It is a very tough situation to deal with but the good news for Grant is that, at just 24, he will come again quickly and what he must do is use this experience to make himself even stronger mentally.

“With regard to myself I had captained Scotland in internationals against Romania and the Barbarians and Frank Hadden had made me captain for the Autumn Test Series with Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand the opposition and I couldn’t wait to lead Scotland out at Murrayfield.

“Unfortunately I then dislocated my shoulder while playing for Glasgow and at 29, with Jason (White) then assuming the captaincy my chance had come and gone and it still hurts.

“But Grant is that bit younger than I was, he is a very level-headed lad and Vern Cotter clearly has a lot of faith in him, but most importantly of all time is on his side.”

The identity of Gilchrist’s successor as captain looks certain to be filled by Gloucester scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, who led his country twice during the four game summer Test series earlier this year.

Petrie has sympathy for the distracting dilemma facing Cotter ahead of a key stage in his building process towards the RWC 2015. “It is a tough call for Vern Cotter to make and it will be interesting to see if he names a captain for the whole series or takes it one international at a time and shares the honour about to develop his leadership group,” said Petrie.

“The good thing is that we do have options with Greig Laidlaw, Ross Ford and Chris Cusiter, all internationalists of great experience who have previously captained Scotland.

“Of the younger players Henry Pyrgos did remarkably well when he captained Glasgow against Bath recently, so it will be fascinating to see which way Vern opts to go.”

Turning his attention to Glasgow’s flying start to their inaugural European Rugby Champions Cup campaign, Petrie is confident that Gregor Townsend’s men have what it takes to make it out of the pool stages for the first time.

He said: “What I have really enjoyed is the way they have shown they can adapt and execute different game-plans to get the result they need.

“Against Bath they produced some fantastic high-tempo rugby in a hugely entertaining and open game. Then at Montpellier they ground out a great victory over a side with one of the most powerful packs in European Rugby. I know how tough it is to win in France and that was a fine result that will give Glasgow huge confidence.”