Grant Gilchrist is a difficult man to miss especially since he recaptured the superlative form that caught the eye of Toulon not so long ago. In the absence of big Richie Gray, he has jumped ahead of Ben Toolis in the ladder of Scottish locks and, if you listen to the man in the know, it was thanks to a combination of being overlooked for last summer’s tour and the impact made by Edinburgh’s new gaffer, Richard Cockerill.
“It was a real blessing in disguise,” Gilchrist says of missing out on the summer sojourn. “Not being picked gave me an opportunity to start pre-season with a new head coach who I needed to prove to that I want to start for Edinburgh first and foremost. It reset my whole mindset. I wanted to prove to Cockers that I was good enough to play for Edinburgh, and when I got playing for Edinburgh, I wanted to prove to Gregor [Townsend] that I was good enough to play for Scotland.
“It was refreshing to start at ground zero. Cockers was quite honest, said he wasn’t going to give me any credit for what I’d done in the past. He wanted to see what I was all about now. He said; ‘I’m not really sure that you are what you’re cracked up to be – I want to see it. I don’t want to hear about it from someone who has seen you play well before, I want to see it now.’
“That management of me works really well. It made me focus. I went to work and worked hard. The way he’s managed me has got me back on to good form.”
Gilchrist is going to need all that form and some, come Saturday against Ireland’s pack of forwards who are among the most cussed in world rugby.
England stood off the breakdown and manned the defensive line, Ireland will throw bodies in like urchins competing for coins at a wedding scramble.
Add into the mix three Lions’ Test match props and the likely return of another Lion in lock Iain Henderson and it’s clear that the Scots have a challenge to reproduce their home form in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium.
If BT Murrayfield has become something of a fortress for the Scots, their form away from home is woeful and Ireland have lost exactly two matches in the Aviva since 2014, one to Wales and the other against New Zealand.
“Playing that style of rugby, we do it well at Murrayfield,” says Gilchrist. “Now the biggest challenge is in the Six Nations, against the team top of the table. We need to go away and replicate the same game and make sure we play in the same way.
“There’s no reason why we can’t but history tells us that the home games are where we’ve played to our best. Now we need to do it in Dublin. It’s going to take a massive effort. As good as we were against England, we’re going to have to be even better in all areas over there.
“When it comes to the hard stuff, there’s an understanding amongst the pack that if we don’t get that right, it doesn’t matter how many X-factor players we have out wide. If we get done up front, we’re going to struggle to win games of Test match rugby.
“The first and last 20 minutes are big focusses for us as a team. If you start well and show dominance, especially against a team like England or Ireland who are looking to physically dominate you in the collisions, you give yourself a chance. If you don’t match it, you’ve got an uphill battle all day. It’s a massive area you have to get right. When we have got that right, the full performance has been there for the whole game. If you start well, it tends to set the tone.”
Gilchrist insists that Scotland weren’t overconfident in Cardiff but after conceding two early scores they chased the game too early and made poor decisions because of it. They seemed to learn a lesson in composure, fighting back from a 10-0 deficit against France, but if they give Ireland the same sort of head start, you fancy a team as clinical as Joe Schmidt’s will be over the hill and in the next county before half-time.
“Things have been going well and we take belief from that, but Ireland will probably be another step up in that sense, the intensity their forwards play with...” says Gilchrist, running out of words. “They have a strong driving game and their scrum’s obviously good as well.
“We’ve shown we can do it but can we do it again away from home where physically it matters so much more? You get that emotion at Murrayfield, but away you’ve got to replicate the intensity without it.”