Scotland’s Grant Gilchrist has unfinished business

Grant Gilchrist is hoping to feature for Scotland in Saturday night's warm-up game against France. Picture: SNS/SRU
Grant Gilchrist is hoping to feature for Scotland in Saturday night's warm-up game against France. Picture: SNS/SRU
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Scotland lock Grant Gilchrist has had enough injury misfortune in his career to take a philosophical reflection on the one that wrecked his World Cup four years ago but does admit that it lingers as unfinished business.

The Edinburgh second-row’s tournament in England came to a premature end when he tore his groin in the second pool match against United States in Leeds. It came as a cruel blow after he had worked back from a broken arm which had prevented him captaining Scotland’s 2014 autumn series under then coach Vern Cotter.

“I’ve said before that I don’t tend to look on it too much as a negative, but obviously it was a disappointment at the time,” said the forward, who turned 29 on the exact same birth date as his club-mate and Calcutta Cup-retaining skipper Stuart McInally last Friday.

“It was still a big highlight getting to go and play in the first two games [in 2015] when I look back on it, despite the obvious disappointments.

“I would really love to get back there and get more of my game out there at a World Cup rather than a game and a half.”

Much has been made of centre and back row being the really hot competitions for selection to that final 31, which head coach Gregor Townsend will name on 3 September, but lock should provide some tasty selection conversations too.

Even without the experienced and now French league winner Richie Gray in the training squad, Gilchrist is up against Jonny Gray, pictured inset, Ben Toolis, Scott Cummings and the versatile Sam Skinner in what you would imagine will be a five-into-four scenario.

“I wouldn’t say I was expecting [to go to the World Cup],” he said. “I’m working hard and I think the difference is that I’ve had a good couple of years and I feel confident in my own game and the improvements I can make through the pre-season.

“I know I am in better shape than I was coming in at the start on the back of what was a pretty good season for me personally. To make more improvements and put my foot forward for selection is all I’m thinking about at this stage.”

Gilchrist revealed that the squad had been visited by World Rugby referees chief Alain Rolland, as well as Scottish officials Mike Adamson and Sam Grove, for discussion on the law amendment around engagement at the scrum.

“The scrum will be different. Teams are used to loading up against each other and then dropping in but they are saying they don’t want that,” said the lock.

“They don’t want any pressure on the neck before engagement so we have to look at different ways of holding our own weight and then dropping in. It has changed a bit technically for the front five so we have done a lot of work around controlling our own bodyweight whereas before it was about how much weight you could get across on the opposition before the set.

“Now, you hold back and engage when the ref calls set. But the essence of scrummaging doesn’t change; it is little technical things.

“We’ve got to know what the referees are looking for. Obviously, you want to get the upper hand on the opposition but you want to do that in a way that fits the picture the referee is looking for. If you are illegal
then you will find yourself being penalised and that can really affect your game.

“Scrummaging is still a huge part of the game. More and more they want us to speed up and that’s fine, but it will always be a part of the game that can swing momentum… It can be a swing in the game.”

Like all players in the now 40-man group, a chance to release some frustration in this Saturday evening’s opening World Cup warm-up game against France in Nice is a tantalising prospect.

“I really want to play. Boys are just itching to get out and play. We’ve done a lot of prep and you can see all the parts of our game starting to come together. We want to get out there and see how our systems are.”

Gilchrist missed the summer tour to Japan back in 2016 but is enthused by the prospect of a new experience.

“A catering company came in and cooked some Japanese food. And told us about the 
eating culture,” he explained.

“It’s been more focused on how we are going to deal with the actual heat and humidity than too much of the cultural stuff.

“But yes, I like sushi. It may be unusual for a boy from Alloa, but I’ll try anything.

“There’s not many foods I won’t eat!”