Six Nations: Grant Gilchrist ready to step up
IF 2013 was Grant Gilchrist’s apprenticeship as a Scotland player, then he hopes the next year will see him graduate to become a time-served international.
The Edinburgh lock ended the 12 months just gone with four caps after making his Dark Blues bow at the Stade de France in the final match of last year’s RBS 6 Nations.
The Scots were beaten 23-16 by Les Bleus but the experience was a highly valuable one for the novice forward.
That initial lesson in the requirements of Test match rugby, however, was followed up by the bruising 27-17 defeat to Samoa during the summer tour of South Africa, a narrow win over Italy in Pretoria and November’s 21-15 defeat by Australia - leaving Gilchrist to ackowledge he really was enrolled at the school of hard knocks.
Yet the 23-year-old believes he is now ready for a full examination of his skills and a starting slot in this year’s championships.
He faces stiff competition from second-row colleagues like Jonny and Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Kieran Low and Tim Swinson but Gilchrist is nothing but keen.
“I’ve got four caps now and I’m desperate to add more,” he told Press Association Sport. “I’d love to make myself a permanent fixture in the squad.
“There is a lot of competition in my position. There were six second rows capped in the autumn and it will be just as competitive in the Six Nations.
“But I’m looking forward to that challenge. I’m in the squad, now I need to push for a starting place.
“Test match rugby, now matter who you are playing or in what competition, is as intense as it gets. I’ve found that already.
“Whoever you play it will be tough. The Six Nations is a massive competition and I can’t wait to be involved in it.”
While he insists he is all grown up now, Gilchrist’s ambitions stem from his schoolboy days following Scotland both at home and abroad.
He has cheered on his country in the capitals of Italy and Ireland but now hopes to be the one collecting the applause of the Tartan Army.
He said: “The Six Nations is such a special competition. I’ve been to quite a few games, even a few away matches with my family which was an amazing experience.
“It’s a great time of year to be a rugby fan. I went to Rome with my dad and uncle once and that was a good trip, and there was a couple of games in Dublin that I managed as well.
“It’s a special tournament with the way the fans converge on all the cities.
“The stadiums are all top drawer and it makes it unique with the sell-out stadiums and the passion of the fans for all of the sides.”
Having experienced action either on the pitch or from the stands at five of the six championship venues to be used this year, Gilchrist has already circled March’s trip to Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium for special focus as he seeks to complete the set.
But the prospect of a packed-out Murrayfield is even more alluring.
When his club runs out in the Scottish capital, the 67,000-seater arena is rarely more than a tenth full. It will be a difficult picture when England and France come to town, though, with both matches sold out already.
“I’ve only been capped once at Murrayfield but the Australia game was best experience of my life,” he said. “It was a boyhood dream come true.
“The atmosphere was unreal - I’d put it top of my list of anything I’ve sampled.
“I’m already looking forward to the England game. It has its own incentives, though. It would be a dream come true to play in that match.
“We’d fancy our chances of beating them at Murrayfield. Going back through the history of the fixture, there has always been close matches here.
“We have come out on top a few times recently and that would be our aim again this time.
“When you have got the fans behind us and the players that we have in our squad, we feel we can compete with anyone.
“We’ve only got the two home games this year and they are tough fixtures. But then all the games at this level, with the calibre of teams you face, are hard.
“The crowds are coming back in their droves to Murrayfield in their droves and playing in front of a sold-out stadium is huge for us.
“Ultimately it can affect the result. When the games are close, the fans singing and making a lot of noise does make a difference to the boys. It spurs you on to go that extra yard.”