GEORGE TURNER has had to do it the hard way in pro rugby. He went four long seasons on the books at Edinburgh between 2013 and 2017, stuck behind Stuart McInally, Ross Ford and Neil Cochrane, leaving him with only one start and 13 bench appearances to his name, and feeling like he was banging his head against a brick wall.
Something had gone far wrong with Scottish Rugby’s talent identification/development process here, because when Gregor Townsend took over as Scotland head coach in the summer of 2017, he immediately called the hooker up to his first tour squad. And although Turner didn’t pick up a cap on that trip to Fiji, Australia and Singapore (where they played Italy), his previously hidden-away ability became clear when he started to get regular game-time after he headed west to Glasgow Warriors on loan at the start of the following season.
And with Fraser Brown missing the start of that season through injury, he picked up the first two of his 12 caps to date off the bench against Samoa and New Zealand that November, having demonstrated that he had both the technique and attitude required to operate at the top level, leaving onlookers shaking their head in puzzlement at why it had taken so long to start scratching the surface of the 25-year old’s [as he was then] potential.
There is no doubt that the last four years of his career have been far more gratifying than those first four frustrating years, although a combination of injuries, suspension and the presence of Brown and McInally means that he has managed just four starts (against USA in the summer of 2018, France in a 2019 World Cup warm-up match, and Samoa and Russia at Japan 2019) for Scotland to date, and is yet to play any active part in the Six Nations.
That chance to take his game to the next level will arrive on Saturday when Turner will almost certainly start in Scotland’s Calcutta Cup Six Nations opener against England at Twickenham, with Dave Cherry – another hooker who has come through the hard way – likely to be providing cover from the bench.
This big chance is largely down to the unavailability of Brown and McInally due to similar neck injuries, but the 28-year-old isn’t in any mood to play the wide-eyed novice. He’s been around the squad long enough now to know what is coming down the tracks, and he’s determined to take it all in his stride.
Scroll down to continue reading:
“I have been more involved with some of the reps [this week] but even in camp when those two are here I get involved all the same, do my best and always want to play,” he said. “It is completely different this time, but I am just trying to treat this camp as normal, just work hard and talk up in the group.
“Playing in the tournament is big and playing against England away is even bigger but I will try and take it as just another Scotland game and perform as best I can, it will be a great honour to be involved.
“Maybe some players think differently, but personally I think about my game, think about the start, try to apply what we’ve been talking about during the week into the game and bring my best performance. No matter the occasion. I’m sure some others are the same.
“Some people might have it in the back of their mind, but when you get on to the field, you’re back to playing rugby and you do what you do.
“It would obviously create waves if Scotland beat England at Twickenham,” he added. “We came close a couple of years ago. We feel we have the firepower to do it, but obviously have to apply it on the day.”
England reached the World Cup Final in 2019, then won the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup in 2020, and they haven’t lost at Twickenham to Scotland since 1983. On that basis, Scotland start as long-odds outsiders on Saturday, but Turner insists that his team (who fell at the first hurdle in the World Cup, then finished fourth in the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup) are entitled to believe that they can upset the apple cart.
“I think in the Nations Cup we maybe didn’t do as well as we’d hoped, but we built on every game,” he argued. “We had some great performances. Maybe cut a couple of errors, a couple of silly penalties and we were right in those other games.
“I think on any day Scotland has a chance to beat any team. It would be amazing, and a statement of intent, to win down at Twickenham. It would be really good.”