Grant Gilchrist ready to fight for Scotland second-row berth

Edinburgh man is expected to be re-installed in the engine room against Argentina this weekend

Grant Gilchrist
Grant Gilchrist is expected to be named in the second-row for Scotland against Argentina on Saturday. Image: Fotosport/David Gibson

IN light of all this talk about the importance of versatility to national head coach Gregor Townsend as he ponders his options ahead naming a 31-man squad for next year’s World Cup in Japan, there might have been a danger that an out-and-out specialist like Grant Gilchrist could end up feeling like a bit of an anachronism – but the second-row says he is entirely comfortable with what he has to offer the national cause.

At a recent press conference, Townsend identified five individuals capable of playing in either of the back two rows of the scrum – Sam Skinner, Tim Swinson, Blade Thomson, Rob Harley and Lewis Carmichael – who could be useful assets when the team have to play four pool games inside 21-days at the big tournament (whilst also keeping enough key bodies fresh enough for the team to be competitive in the knock-out stages, should Scotland qualify).

However, Gilchrist believes that the value of having players in each position who are 100 percent focussed on that specific role is even more important to the squad’s prospects. And the 28-year-old, along with Jonny Gray, Ben Toolis and Richie Gray (if he can shake-off the injury issues which have blighted the last 18-months of his career) are the four leading contenders to take-up probably three specialist second-row berths.

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“I’ve only moved to six once my whole career, so I’d call myself an out-and-out lock,” smiled Gilchrist, when asked if he harboured any ambitions of filling in at to blindside or number eight at some point in the future. “It’s great that other guys have the ability to move between the two, but I’ll just be the best lock I can be and that’s the best thing I can do because I don’t think six is going to be an option for me.

“I always concentrate on: if you’re playing your best rugby then you’ll be selected on your merits. If you’re playing better in the second-row to someone who is a second-row/six then you’ll get picked. Maybe second-row/six is good for a bench spot, it’s not something I worry about.”

“To be fair, in Scottish rugby we always seem to have a depth of second-rows,” he added. “From the first time I was involved in the squad until now, it’s always been highly competitive and I’m a firm believer that makes everybody better. It makes me better, it makes the other guys better and I thrive off that.

“I think it’s a really good thing for all of us. It’s not a good thing when you’re not playing, but you’ve got to take that on the chin and work harder, and when you do get your chance there’s pressure on you to perform because there are other guys there who are desperate for it.

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“It’s quite clear that they’re trying out different combinations, so when it is your chance to play you’ve got to perform, because as we’ve seen across the board there’s been good performances – certainly from players in my position.”

Gilchrist will get another opportunity to show his value to the team this weekend when Los Pumas provide the opposition in the last of Scotland’s four Autumn Test matches. Having come off the bench for the final 10 minutes against Wales at the start of the series, he then played the full 80 against Fiji, but missed out on last weekend’s clash against South Africa – meaning that he is raring to go against an opposition who have a few points of their own to prove after two frustrating defeats to Ireland and France during the last fortnight.

“They’re a strong side and the difference from the team that we played in the summer is drastic,” said Gilchrist. “They’ve improved a lot since then and as you’ve seen over the past few weeks and in the Rugby Championship, they’re a very dangerous side and we’re going to have to be as good as we’ve played across the whole of the autumn series to make sure we get the victory.”

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About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.