DURING the last five or six years, if it wasn’t for bad luck then Duncan Taylor would have had no luck at all.
The 31-year-old spent more time on the operating theatre, treatment table or in the rehab gym than on the rugby field during that time, and with the salary cap scandal at Saracens – where he plays his club rugby – providing the backdrop to the Covid-ridden last 12-months, it is just as well that he is such a laid-back and resilient character.
“It has been a year full of madness, but it has been quite enjoyable, I think myself and any team I have been a part of have made the most of the situations we have been in so far,” he shrugs. “Through thick and thin the rugby community has come together, the world has come together, and I think there has been a lot of good that has come out of this terrible time.”
Taylor made his Scotland debut against Samoa in 2013 and would undoubtedly have been well past the 50-cap mark by now had he not been plagued by such sickening injury problems, leaving him sitting on 27 caps at the moment instead.
A shoulder injury ruled him out of the 2015 World Cup, followed by a torn hamstring playing against Japan during the summer of 2016, followed by two ankle surgeries, followed by an ongoing concussion issue which side-lined him for most of the eight months from January 2018, and which left him questioning for a while whether he would play again.
He did make it back in September 2018 but immediately ruptured ligaments in his knee which wiped out practically all of the 2018-19 campaign, and although he recovered in time to be named in Scotland’s 2019 World Cup squad, he was clearly lacking match sharpness and ended up being a peripheral figure.
He even missed the start of the Autumn’s Nations Cup due to another shoulder injury picked up playing in Saracens’ Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Racing 92 but made a speedy recovery on this occasion to take a slot on the bench against France a week past Sunday.
Now, with Scotland headed to Dublin to take on Ireland this Saturday, Taylor is hoping for a starting spot in midfield as head coach Gregor Townsend looks to add some bite to the attack without compromising the defensive solidity which has become the team’s hallmark.
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“I’m 31 years old now and time won’t last forever for me and my rugby career so I think I’m just embracing every opportunity I get, whether it’s training or playing,” he says. “Any time you get the chance to play you want to perform and you want to keep coming back for more, that is the aim of any player given the jersey, so that doesn’t change from week to week, or player to player.
“I think as you get a bit older you start to really embrace things a little bit more than maybe you do when you’re younger,” he continues. “You have more gratitude for the opportunities you get and the chances to be around your team-mates and to play for your club and your country.
“I’ve really developed that love for the game over the last few years without playing as much as I would have liked to. I’ve developed that love because you realise how much you miss it when you are not involved. When you’re not playing it definitely pulls at your heartstrings and makes you realise how important this game is to you.”
Age is just a number
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said before the start of the Autumn Nations Cup that he wanted to use the tournament to build depth in the squad, but Taylor hardly fits the profile of ‘one-for-the-future’. By the time the next World Cup comes around – France 2023 – he will be 34, which is getting on a bit for an international three-quarter – but he’s not the sort of character to rule anything out.
“I don’t look that far in advance to be honest with you, I’m more of a week-to-week guy,” he says. “I still feel I’ve got plenty more in me to give and I will give everything I’ve got over however long I’ve got left playing rugby. But I’ll just attack that on a weekly basis rather than looking too far into the future.”
Which brings him nicely round to this week’s challenge, and he believes that Ireland’s defeat to England earlier in the Autumn provided some valuable clues as to what Scotland will need to do.
“During the last few years, we’ve struggled against Ireland but England seem to have come up trumps against them and I think that comes down to their physicality and their ability around the breakdown,” he said. “I think that’s going to play a huge part in our defensive display at the weekend – winning that gain-line, winning that physical battle.”
And he is in no doubt that Scotland are in a better position than ever before to break their 10-year losing streak in the Emerald Isle.
“We’ve probably got more players to pick from now than we’ve had in a long time,” he explains. “Whenever we haven’t had too much depth in the past, it has been a challenge for us. There’s no guarantee of anyone getting a jersey now, which is great for the squad and the performance side of things.”
Once a Saracen …
Beyond Saturday, Taylor isn’t quite sure where his rugby will come from. With Saracens being relegated last season, and the second-tier English Championship still in Covid hibernation, there is no obvious outlet until the Six Nations gets under way at the start of February.
It is far from ideal situation, but Taylor’s commitment to the club which stood by him during his tough times with injury is unwavering.
“I think it is a situation that we can’t really control at the moment and I am unsure as to what is going to unfold over the next few weeks,” he surmises.
“I’m sure if we aren’t playing in the Championship by January then we will have some pre-season games or some training games to get stuck into, and we are still working very hard week-in and week-out at training.
“It’s just been challenging from all sorts of angles. We’ve gone through a rollercoaster journey over the last year or so. The way we’ve come out the other side of it and dealt with the situation has been great.
“We had two paths we could have gone down when all this stuff came out. We could have let it tear us all apart, or we can use it to bring us all together. I think we’ve done the latter.
“If we can withstand some of the toughest times in the club’s history and stick together, I think it shows we have a pretty good culture. That’ll stand the test of time.”