SOME outstanding international performances over the past year or so have taken Jamie Ritchie from the fringes of the Scotland squad to one of Gregor Townsend’s key performers – so much so that in recent days the Edinburgh forward has been spoken of as a potential starter for the Lions when they tour South Africa next year. No less a figure than former Lions player and coach Ian McGeechan, for one, has suggested that the 23-year-old deserves to be in the tourists’ matchday 15, an opinion shared by ex-Scotland lock Jim Hamilton.
Having harboured an ambition to play for the Lions for almost as long as he can remember, Ritchie is aware that on recent form he could be a contender. But he is equally aware that, as he and his Edinburgh and Scotland team-mates are about to embark on a hectic autumn schedule after a three-month break, there is an awful lot of rugby to be played before anyone can seriously turn their thoughts to a tour which is still nearly a year away.
“It’s extremely humbling to be included in those conversations, especially from guys like Ian,” he said yesterday [Tuesday]. “A lot of people can get caught up looking too far ahead. It’s a bit of a cliche, but you’re only as good as your last game.
“I’m concentrating on trying to get back into form. If I get picked for these Glasgow games, they’ll be opportunities for me to find a vein of form.
“It looks like such an incredible experience across the board, not just the games themselves but the whole tour, having all the fans out there and stuff. It would be an awesome thing to be involved in. If the call comes, the call comes, but I certainly won’t be holding my breath.
“It would be a huge honour. It’s something I’ve dreamt about since I was a kid, don’t get me wrong, but I need to put myself in that position and there’s a lot of rugby between now and then. Hopefully I’ll be in with a shout, but as I say there’s a lot of rugby to be played before then. I just need to keep playing well.”
The individual form he was in prior to lockdown made the abrupt cessation of rugby particularly frustrating for Ritchie, who was part of the Scotland squad that travelled to Wales only to have their game called off at the 11th hour. That game is now set to be played in October, and Ritchie seems confident that, even if a bit of rustiness will be inevitable in Edinburgh’s first matches back, he should be up to speed in time for the Test campaign.
“Especially when we were down in Wales, we were full of confidence,” he continued. “We were looking to go to the Principality and get a win. I think we were all fairly confident that was going to happen.
“So it was frustrating. We thought we were going to be the only sports fixture in the world at one point. But unfortunately, it fell by the wayside, as did everything else.
“In terms of my own form personally, I’m not too worried about it. What will be will be. I’m pretty sure that I’ll hopefully be able to get back into some kind of form off the back of having this time off. It’s just a case of making sure I prepare properly.
“It’s been a whirlwind 18 months or so. I can’t believe it’s gone so quickly. There have been a lot of highs and lows and a lot of stuff has happened off the pitch as well. Lockdown has allowed me to take stock of a lot of things I probably took for granted, which now I’m extremely grateful for. It’s been beneficial to have some good family time.
“I’ve reflected a little bit. I actually watched back the Scotland-Japan [World Cup] game for the first time, which was frustrating. It was great to watch in the sense of it reminded me of the atmosphere on the night. It was a great game to be involved in, and with hindsight now, it’s a game I’ll never forget.”
Having taken advantage of the chance to catch up on that ‘whirlwind’ year and a half, Ritchie is now looking forward to a period which may be just as manic. His aim is to be as close to top form as possible in the double-header against Glasgow, but he is equally aware that a certain amount of realistic patience will be required.
“We obviously need to be sensible about it, because we don’t want to run ourselves into the floor. We need to be sensible about our game time, which I’m sure we will be given the depth of back row we have at Edinburgh.
“You’ll see some rotation in there and I think you’ll probably see some rotation in the international games as well when they come around with all the games in such a short period of time. It’s an opportunity to show our depth, both with Edinburgh and with Scotland. That will be really important over the next few years with what we’re trying to build.
“With these two Glasgow games, I’m not expecting to be firing right from the off. It sometimes takes a couple of games to really get into it. There’s lots of rugby to be played, so I’m not too worried at the moment.
‘This period is about trying to build up as much robustness as we can, because when the season starts we’re probably going to be at it for a wee while without a break. Cockers [Edinburgh coach Richard Cockerill] will certainly have us ready.
“Now we’ve got a date in mind it’s easy to have a focus. I’m not looking too far past that.”
Meanwhile, Ritchie’s former team-mate Dougie Fife has signed for the New Jersey Free Jacks in the USA’s Major League Rugby. The winger-cum-full-back was released by Edinburgh in the spring,
Impressive young man.