AS a professional rugby midfielder, it is your job to operate in the fast lane of the game, putting your body on a collision course with speeding traffic in both attack and defence. It is not a role for the faint of heart, but George Taylor says the intimidation factor of that is nothing compared to knocking on Richard Cockerill’s door in order to challenge the Edinburgh head coach on his selection policy.
That was the situation the 23-year-old found himself in at the start of this season, after his lack of game time during pre-season left him wondering if he really had a future at the club.
Having signed on with the capital outfit in May 2018, he had been fairly comfortable having a limited role during that first season while he found his feet in the pro game, but to not be one of the 30 players used during the London Scottish friendly or the 34 players used against the Ospreys sent out a worrying message. Afterall, how on earth was he going to establish himself as a frontline player without even being trusted in friendly matches.
He was 22 back then so time was still on his side, but the window of opportunity can slam shut very quickly in this business – especially if there is less than a year to run on your contract – so the Borderer decided to take matters into his own hands.
“Was I waiting nervously outside his office before knocking? Yeah, for a while!” he recalls, with a wry smile. “But I’m happy I went to speak to Cockers – it was a tough thing to do that and quite daunting – but in the light of how things have panned out it was the right decision.”
“He said: `You’re a 13. I’m not going to drop Mark Bennett or Jimmy Johnstone’. And I said I can play 12, and he said: `I didn’t know that’. So, he gave me the opportunity to train there and he was pleased with what he saw. So now he knows!
“He said he appreciated me going to speak to him and clearing up that I could do several positions. It was all from my annoyance at not getting game time in pre-season that I asked to speak to him. I wanted to see where I stood in the squad. He explained things, he’s always straight-up, he’s a very honest man.”
Taylor made his first appearance of the season off the bench against Zebre in Edinburgh’s PRO14 opener and has since been a regular in the matchday squad, helped by the injury limiting the availability of Matt Scott and Chris Dean.
“I think I was on the bench and took my opportunity from there. It’s been so good training alongside Mark Bennett and Matt Scott, they’ve been there and done it, so I am just gathering up all the experience I can from them,” said Taylor.
“I feel more integrated in the squad. You have respect and trust from guys around you. For team chemistry it’s good they’re not worrying about someone new coming in and making mistakes. It’s a lot easier for me now knowing I can slot in and do a job there.”
There is also a psychological challenge which comes from training full-time without the outlet of a game at the weekend.
“You’re knocking your pan in every day and knowing you won’t probably get selected at the weekend – it’s mentally demanding all the time, but you have to keep on track and focused,” said Taylor. “If you slacken off then boys ahead of you will progress. I came from Melrose and didn’t get a lot of a game time last year and felt quite fresh but maybe not as comfortable going into games because I’d not had the exposure to match fitness and physicality. But now it’s great because I’ve had that week-in and week-out.”
Taylor signed a two-year contract extension with Edinburgh just before Christmas, meaning he will be at the club until at least the summer of 2022, but the powerful midfielder – who can cover full-back as well if required – knows he has not cracked it yet.
While he started both of the recent 1872 Cup matches, the unavailability of other senior players was a factor in that, and fit-again Scott certainly made a big impact with a couple of thundering carries when he came off the bench on 56 minutes to help Edinburgh pull away in the second of those matches.
“Credit to Matt, he played really well when he came on. He’s been struggling with his rib recently and he was wanting to get some good game time, so yeah, he did well,” acknowledged Scott. “I know there is competition for places there so I just to keep putting in decent performances and training hard.”