Lewis Carmichael already knows what it is like to sit on a Scotland bench. Tomorrow, all being well, he will learn what it is like to come off the bench, get on to the field and start playing for his country.
The Edinburgh lock has already represented Scotland at age-group level, having played for the under-18s before turning out 15 times over two seasons for the under-20s.
It was almost exactly a year ago that, while playing on loan at Western Force in Australia, Carmichael was called up by Scotland coach Gregor Townsend to be part of the senior squad for the first time. He was there primarily as cover but now, after a season of significant progress, he is more than ready to make the jump to full international – as Townsend himself said when naming the 23-year-old as a replacement for the Test against Canada.
“We were talking about that with the coaches, what a difference in 12 months,” Townsend said. “It’s worth remembering that 12 months ago he was playing Super Rugby, so he was doing pretty well, but I think that now physically he’s developed, he’s shown the athleticism that we saw when he played for Melrose – it’s now coming out at a professional level.
“He’s a very hard worker, he takes on information, and has a real desire and determination to improve. We saw the aggression that’s required for his position in those last few games for Edinburgh. We’re looking forward to the impact he can make off the bench.”
So, needless to say, is Carmichael, pictured. If last year was a case of so near and yet so far when it came to making his full debut, he is sure it was a valuable experience all the same. So, too, were those outings with the age-group sides, and indeed with Western Force in what turned out to be their last season in Super Rugby.
“Gregor brought me over to Sydney for that week before the Australia game,” he explained of that call-up in 2018. “I trained with them, watched the game on the bench with the boys, and then I flew back to Western Australia after the game.
“Gregor said ‘Right now we want to bring you into the squad just to get a feel of what it’s like and understand what they do’. So it wasn’t frustrating: I was just really happy that Gregor called me and thought of me when I was out there.
“It was great just to be in camp and see what it was like to be around the boys in Test week. I learned a lot about what it takes to play at that level and what you’ve got to do behind the scenes, so it was really good. I really enjoyed that.
“I just thought I was lucky enough to be a part of it the way I was. I wasn’t really frustrated –I was more happy that I got the call to come out and shadow the boys.
“I played two seasons for the 20s, and I played the year before the 18s as well. I really enjoyed that time. I think all that time was very valuable - they were like stepping stones to the professional game. You definitely need it. Without the 18s and the 20s it would probably be too much of a jump to the senior professional game. They were really valuable.
“It was definitely a bit of a learning curve going out and playing in Australia. It’s a different brand of rugby they play out there. It’s very fast, very attacking-based. It’s made me a more rounded player coming back. Just experiencing that was brilliant.
“It’s probably helped my game a lot with Edinburgh this season as well, so I’m really grateful to have had that opportunity to go out there.”
Any assessment of why Carmichael has made so much progress in a year has to start with the man himself and his work ethic which Townsend values so highly. But, clearly, the fact that Edinburgh made significant progress in the season just ended can only have helped. And for that Carmichael, in common with so many others, credits head coach Richard Cockerill.
“Richard is obviously just a great coach, and he’s experienced a lot in his time as well. I think it’s just a mixture of bringing all that into Edinburgh. He started fresh with us and everyone has just bought into all his values. Everyone wants to work really hard for him, so it’s been really good. He has come in and done a great job. I’ve really enjoyed my season – it’s been a really enjoyable and successful year.”
The job of coaches is often to find raw talent and refine it, but the talent has to be there in the first place. In Carmichael’s case it was pretty obvious he had in abundance. Not that it was a stereotypical tale of playing rugby from an early age thanks to attending an independent school or to having parents steeped in the sport.
“I’m not from a rugby family at all,” he explained. “I’m the only person in my family that ever played rugby. I started playing in first or second year at high school. I played football before that, and then I just made the switch because a few of my pals did. It just took off from there – I really enjoyed it.
“I wasn’t really into much else, to be honest. I went to North Berwick High School and played right through the years there. When I came out of school I didn’t really know what I was going to do – I just knew I loved playing rugby and I wanted to pursue that as much as I could.
“So I just stuck at it until it kind of happened. I was quite lucky, to be honest.”