Toolis trusts in Aussie upbringing to give him the edge over All Blacks

Ben Toolis in action against Samoa. Image: ©Fotosport/David Gibson

NO Scottish player or supporter has ever beaten or been able to celebrate beating the All Blacks, and it follows that the home team go into Saturday’s match at Murrayfield at a certain psychological disadvantage. It is all very well being confident that you can win; but self-belief, no matter how unshakeable, is simply not the same as knowing you can win because you have done it before.

But of course, not every member of the Scotland squad grew up in this country supporting the national team. And some of our players, such as Brisbane-born Ben Toolis, while having no first-hand experience of defeating New Zealand, at least grew up in a culture where victory over their neighbours was a regular occurrence in rugby and in other sports.

Memories of seeing Australian teams beat their trans-Tasman rivals will not make Toolis’ physical task any easier at the weekend, but his awareness since childhood that the All Blacks are mere mortals like the rest of us could just give the 25-year-old’s morale a boost. Certainly, compared to some Scots who have taken too reverential a stance towards New Zealand rugby, Toolis will approach the world champions with respect but not awe.

“Growing up in Oz you always have that next-door-neighbour enemy lines, I guess, and if that’s what’s going to help me get into the right mindset I’ll definitely bring that,” the second-row forward said. “I think it will help us as a team, if I’m involved, and deep down there’s always that aggressive edge in wanting to beat them in anything. Even when I was playing other sports, playing against New Zealand you always wanted to get one up on them as well, so yes, I’m excited.”

Having said that, he also admitted that Australia’s recent record against the All Blacks was not too inspiring. The Wallabies did win the most recent Test between the two, last month in Toolis’ home town, but that brought an end to a run of seven defeats.

“The fact that Australia have struggled to beat them in recent years has taken that away,” he said when asked if there was still a feeling that defeating the All Blacks was or at least felt easier for Aussies. “But the fact that I’ve been living here in Scotland and playing for them now, I have an understanding of how important it is that we want to win the game and make history as well, so that’s brought a new edge to my mindset.

“My heritage is here and obviously I’m Scottish now. That’s what I’m looking to do. I guess at the back of my mind I have that enemy growing up, but now with the mindset living here and being part of the boys and part of the group we know what we want to do. And I think that’s taken over what I’m used to, so that’s my mentality at the moment.”

And if that sounds like Toolis wants it both ways, well, why not? After all, a lot of things will need to go right for Scotland if they are going to get that historic first win at the 31st attempt, even if the Edinburgh lock is sure that he and his team-mates will be able to find chinks in the New Zealand armour.

“There’s always something you’re going to find you can exploit. They’ve lost to a few teams in the last couple of years: Australia beat them, South Africa came close, and Ireland.

“There are always areas you can do damage. We’ll have a great opportunity to score points and put them under pressure.”

If with minutes to play on Saturday Scotland have scored more points to find themselves within touching distance of that historic first win, there is no doubt they will start to feel the weight of history on their shoulders. The key to dealing with such a scenario, according to Toolis, is not to pay too much attention to it.

“At the back of your mind is ‘What if?’, but we need to train well and play. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. If it happens it will be very special.”

The aftermath of last week’s 44-38 win over Samoa was very special in a different way for Toolis, as he and Edinburgh team-mate Hamish Watson got to meet JK Rowling. The author is a keen supporter of the national team – and so, she has asserted without fear of contradiction, is the entire wizarding community from the fictional world of Harry Potter.

“It was quite cool,” Toolis said of meeting Rowling. “I think she usually goes to the games, and me and Hamish went and saw her and spoke to her briefly and it was really nice. It was good to see her supporting us and the boys. For someone like her who takes time out of her day to come and support us is quite special and means a lot to us.

“I’m a big fan. Who’s not? She just said well done on the win and look forward to the next few games. She even said to a few of the younger boys well done on their debuts, which was nice.”

About Stuart Bathgate 1393 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.