JAMIE RITCHIE doesn’t remember much about his one previous experience of playing in Agen, but what he does recall is positive, so he is desperate to be involved again when Edinburgh launch their European Challenge Cup campaign at the Stade Armandie on Friday night.
“I came off the bench in my second ever game for the club when I was just 18-years-old,” he recalls. “I don’t remember much about the match except that it was cold. I remember I had to sing a song on the bus on the way back to the hotel after the game because it was my first away trip. I think it might have been ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams but I have a few songs in the repertoire.”
He wouldn’t be drawn on what his current favourite song is, but there is no doubting that he would happily give it full welly if the capital outfit repeat that trick of almost four years ago to the day, when they ran out convincing 6-27 winners against the Frenchmen.
Ritchie was, of course, one of the few genuine success stories to emerge from Scotland’s disappointing World Cup campaign but recognises that his achievements in Japan will count for very little unless he kicks on from here with some big performances at club level leading into the Six Nations.
“I just want to be better within myself,” he says. “I’d love to keep playing for Scotland if I get the opportunity, but my bread and butter is Edinburgh. I love this club, and if me playing well means that we start winning stuff, that’s great.
“My ambition is to play as often and as well as I can. I have set a high standard for myself out in the World Cup and I would like to maintain that. Sometimes a game does not fall your way, but you can do your jobs to the best of your ability. You’re only as good as your next game so for me the World Cup has gone, and I am looking forward to the next few weeks with Edinburgh.”
Of course, it is not a case of Ritchie simply walking straight back into the Edinburgh team. He is one of five back-rowers returning to the squad from the World Cup – alongside Magnus Bradbury, John Barclay, the injured Hamish Watson and Fiji’s Viliame Mata – and they are up against some players who have made a pretty good fist of making the jersey their own during the opening month of the season while the big dogs were away.
“You have seen the guys when we have been away doing really well,” he acknowledges. “Ally Miller, Nick Haining and Luke Crosbie have really stepped up and are playing a more senior role in the team this year, which is great to see. It is a huge confidence boost for us coming back knowing these guys are playing well. But it also means we know that to get our jerseys back we need to perform to their level and higher.
“I welcome competition as it makes you better,” he adds. “It is the nature of our sport. If you are not playing well somebody can come in and put you out of your position so there is no hiding away from it. That is the nature of the beast. Guys have been injured or out of form and that has given me opportunities in my career, so I know how it goes.”
Ritchie played 21 minutes off the bench for Edinburgh against the Dragons last weekend and is hopeful of a longer stint on the paddock this coming Friday.
“I’ve only played one game since I’ve been back from the World Cup and I’ve not backed two games up this season, so I’m definitely keen to play,” he concludes. “Any game where I get an opportunity to play, I want to. The guys have been playing well while we’ve been away, so we need to put our hands up for selection for the games coming up.”