Uncapped Grant Gilchrist may be the rookie in the ranks but the 22-year-old Edinburgh second row is still determined to be part of a Scottish team which leaves fans smiling into the summer when the RBS Six Nations Championship ends with a visit to France on Saturday.
It was been as roller-coaster 12 months for the Scots but victory in Paris would give them a credit balance of six wins from 11 starts.
Things got underway with those three tour wins in Australia, Fiji and Samoa. Then followed the satisfaction of crossing the All Blacks’ try-line an unprecedented three times at Murrayfield, albeit in defeat, and a shattering loss to Tonga which cost coach Andy Robinson his job.
Come Europe’s annual blue riband tournament and suddenly Scotland post a record 34-10 triumph over Italy as a prelude to a first Six Nations victory in 12 years against the Irish. As for last weekend’s tussle with Wales, it certainly won’t be remembered for exhilarating rugby, but it will stand out for Gilchrist as the catalyst for his big opportunity in Paris.
Gilchrist has been picked to replace the injured Richie Gray ahead of the experienced Al Kellock who came on as a substitute for Gray against Wales.
“When Richie Gray was stretchered off I did think that might give me a chance of getting involved against France although I probably expected it would come off the bench rather than starting,” said the son of former Alloa coach, Tommy Gilchrist, who despite his debutant status is still able to hint of unfinished business from Scotland.
“If we end the campaign with a win we take a feel-good into the summer. That will help the bounce back from last week’s defeat by Wales.”
Although uncapped Gilchrist has been very much part of Scotland’s 2012-13 journey from being called into the training squad for the first time at St Andrews in the Autumn to sitting on the bench against Tonga.
“The atmosphere after Tonga was not great for my first experience of being part of the match-day squad,” he added. “The dressing-room was a pretty dark place afterwards and there was no hiding from fact it was a poor result. It was not ideal. This is an opportunity I was always hoping for, though, despite that Tonga experience and the injury I picked up when Edinburgh played Cardiff a month ago.
“I was stunned looking at the screen where the team announcement was projected up and the fact we went out to train immediately afterwards meant telling my dad and girlfriend had to be delayed.
“It still feels a bit surreal even now but has just about sunk in.
“It’s good that there will be some familiar faces having been in and around the squad for a while and I’ll draw on that as I will the fact I have played for Edinburgh in some good wins over French club opposition.”
There is also a place on the June tour to South Africa when the Springboks and Samoa will be encountered, and, depending on results, Italy, in a four-team tournament for which – the SRU confirmed today – caps will be awarded despite the expectation Scotland will have Lions representation simultaneously. That is far from Gilchrist’s mind, however, as he focuses on the encounter with France in Paris on Saturday. “It’ll be a step up from anything I have experienced and a lot more physical.
“France will be wanting to put a bit of hope into their campaign with a good win and we are in the same boat. I can’t wait to make my contribution especially as my family will be in the crowd.”
Scotland coach Scott Johnson admits that including Gilchrist, who had a spell in New Zealand, had been made with one eye on the future. “Grant has been on our horizon for some time. Is he the finished article? No he is not. But we want him right in a couple of years.
“I spoke to Al Kellock and it is doubtful whether he will make the final campaign of the (2015) World Cup. It is acknowledging we want to suck his brains and the young fellows learn from someone who has forgotten more than most know about certain areas of the game.”