AT the grand old age of 28, Matt Scott knows that he is no longer in the first flush of youth – but he still has a few miles left in the tank, and after a rare pre-season uninterrupted by injury or international duty, he reckons he is in the best nick of his career as he looks ahead to finally establishing himself in the Edinburgh midfield, and thereafter pushing his way back into international contention.
Scott’s homecoming from Gloucester last season started off positively, with six games and some good form at club level earning inclusion in Scotland’s training squad for their Autumn Test series. But then a head injury picked up playing against Toulon in the Champions Cup just a few days after his international call-up decimated his season and left him contemplating the vulnerability of a professional rugby career.
He finally returned – some five months later – in time to make a late push for Scotland’s World Cup training squad, but as Edinburgh’s season faltered so too did his dream of making the plane to Japan. Missing out was hardly unexpected, but it was still a bitter pill to swallow.
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“It is always tough, I don’t think until I hang my boots will I be comfortable with not making the squad, or watching Scotland games when I’m not involved,” he reflected. “I’m competitive and I want to be there, but I’m realistic in the sense that I recognise that I had a really bad injury last year, and I missed the Autumn and Six Nations, so that made it really difficult for them to pick me.
“In my head, I had three or four games at the end of the season where I could have come back and made a case, and I just didn’t do enough. It is difficult but I support the boys and I hope they do really well. A lot of my close friend will be in the squad for Japan, so I’ll be cheering them on like every other Scotsman.”
In the meantime, Scott’s focus is squarely on himself and Edinburgh – and specifically Saturday’s pre-season loosener against London Scottish at Murrayfield.
“It is the best I have felt in ages, to be honest,” he said. “It has been good to spend the last few months fit and getting fitter.
“I finished the end of last season and I had put on a lot of size. When I had been injured, I had done a lot of gym sessions and I hadn’t realised it myself, but I was far too heavy – I finished the season at 110 kilos.
“On the face of it, you have put on four kilos of lean mass and you are a stronger athlete, but my frame couldn’t cope with putting that much weight on and I was having back issues.
“I couldn’t repeat sets, I couldn’t run support lines, I couldn’t get to things quick enough because I was so heavy.
“When I was that heavy, I wasn’t playing to my strengths and perhaps was playing like a heavier player: running over people rather than making outside breaks.
“It was nobody’s fault – you just do what you have done in the past. When I was first a pro, I was 95 kilos, but over the years that went up and genetically I am good at keeping weight on.
Making a change
“I wasn’t happy with how I was feeling on the pitch, so I made a commitment to myself and the coaches to come back lighter. I said in my end of season review I wanted to come back after the summer and almost reinvent myself in terms of the style I’ll be playing.
“My programme has now changed drastically. I am doing far less weights than the rest of the guys and more conditioning stuff, and I am starting to see the fruits of it.
“In hindsight I have realised that you have to find the playing weight that suits you, heavier is not always better and I went over the cusp of being effective.
“I set a target of being 103 kilos by the end of pre-season, I came back in at 105, but over the last month or so I have got down to 102 or 103, and I feel so much better. I feel like I have so much more energy.
“I have learned this is going to be a good weight for me, I have always played my best rugby under 105 kilos.
“I have been smashing all my previous best running times and just feel lighter and a lot more mobile, so I am excited for the games to come.”
With Mark Bennett also missing most of last season through injury, Chris Dean and James Johnstone grabbed the opportunity they had been presented with to man the Edinburgh midfield – and Scott knows that he and his fellow internationalist are going to have a fight on their hands to recover the No12 and No13 jerseys.
“There is a lot of quality there,” he conceded. “Myself and Mark are obviously the one who have played international rugby, but last year we had our injury troubles and Deano and Jamesie were the guys who played the best – so they’re the guys with the starting jerseys now and it is up to us to play well enough to take it off them.
“You have a season like I had last year and you just think: ‘I really need to make sure I make the most of whatever years I’ve got left’.”
- Matt Scott was speaking at a photo call to mark a three-year extension of the sponsorship deal between Dentons law firm and Edinburgh Rugby.