Duncan Taylor’s rise to become the form player in Scotland’s most competitive position will have come as no surprise to anyone who has seen him shine for Europe’s form club Saracens this season.
The 26-year-old bounced back from the disappointment of missing the World Cup with a shoulder injury to star in the London side’s surge to the top of the English Premiership and the European Champions Cup quarter-finals and has continued with eye-catching displays in Scotland’s last two Six Nations games.
Matt Scott’s injury problems opened the door to the player, who can also cover the wing position, and he has grasped the opportunity with a tryscoring display in Cardiff and another strong showing in the win in Rome.
Taylor looks nailed on to be named at centre again today by head coach Vern Cotter for Sunday’s visit of France, possibly moving outside to accommodate the return of his fellow World Cup absentee Alex Dunbar at 12.
It is a sign of Scotland’s burgeoning midfield strength that Cotter has been dealing with the vagaries of injury and form but still finds himself able to consistently select a solid and potent centre pairing.
Taylor said: “They are all great players in the centre which is good for all of us as players – we all bounce off each other and the harder we push each other the better it is for the team.”
As he looked ahead to Sunday’s game, Taylor welcomed the return of Dunbar, who last played for Scotland just over a year ago before enduring a series of injuries, to the national squad and added: “It’s nice to have him back in and around the boys. He’s a good character in the changing rooms and he brings something to this team with his training. He’s been fantastic for Glasgow these past couple of weeks, so it’s good to get him back.
“He’s not been the most fortunate man with injuries so he must be hoping he can get an injury-free run.”
Taylor admitted he was happy with his own form and senses that the win in Rome can be a platform towards achieving a positive finish to the tournament.
“Yeah, it was a frustrating first couple of weeks with the England and Wales games, which didn’t go quite the way we wanted them to.
“We felt like we could have been better and there was opportunities there for us to get a win, so it has been frustrating in that sense.
“But it was nice to get that win over Italy a couple of weeks ago and, hopefully, we can push on from that.”
After the damp squib of the Calcutta Cup defeat, there have been signs that the attack which sparkled at the World Cup is beginning to click into gear again with five tries in the last two games, including Taylor’s excellent, albeit consolation, effort in Cardiff.
“It was a weird feeling, really, because it’s something you would usually be happy about, but coming into the changing room afterwards, because we hadn’t won the game, it was a really deflated feeling running through the camp,” added Taylor.
“It was nine games in a row that we had lost and, although we didn’t think about it too much, everyone else seemed to be worried about that stat. So I guess it was good to get the monkey off our back [in Rome] in that sense. Now we’ve just got to keep plugging away to get more wins.
“The confidence is running through our whole squad in terms of our attack. [Backs coach] Jason [O’Halloran] has done a great job with us on setting that attacking platform, although I think we can still be better in that sense because we haven’t taken all of our opportunities.”
Taylor has started alongside Mark Bennett in the last two games but, with the Glasgow man, who only recovered from a month-long injury to just make the start of the Six Nations, released back to his club last weekend, it could be a new partner on Sunday.
Taylor added: “We all have to gel as quickly as we can for the weekend. It is the same with any week, nobody is ever sure who is going to be playing with who. Throughout the Six Nations, whenever we have time together, we always get ourselves into groups and talk our way through training sessions and games, and just try to bounce off each other.
“We won’t know who we are going to be playing with until later in the week so we’re all just grafting.”
His Saracens mates, including former Scotland players Kelly Brown and Jim Hamilton, may be enjoying the delights of New York this weekend for the landmark Premiership meeting with London Irish but the prospect of a 16th cap holds much more allure for Taylor. He does, though, credit his club with driving up his standards.
“It has been brilliant. Playing with great players week in, week out is only going to benefit the team, the coaches and everyone at the club,” said Taylor. “But international rugby is another step up. Because we have such a short time with each other, it is longer days and you really have to buy into it during the time you are together to make the gains and improvements you need.
“When you are playing club rugby it comes a little bit more easily, because you don’t have to be out in the field as long or do as much analysis.
“With Scotland it is just ramped up a level and, when you take the field, it is up another level again.”