IT goes without saying that there is never a good time to suffer a serious injury, but Lewis Carmichael’s enforced absence last season came at a particularly inappropriate moment. Having made a dynamic, try-scoring Test debut off the bench against Canada on Scotland’s 2018 summer tour, the Edinburgh lock then started against the USA a week later. He looked ready for a flying start to the following season and to mount a challenge for a place in Gregor Townsend’s Six Nations squad, but instead was ruled out first by concussion, then by a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Fifteen months on from that Test in Houston, Carmichael was finally back in action on Saturday, playing the first 55 minutes of Edinburgh’s 22-21 friendly defeat by Ospreys. There is probably never a bad time to make a comeback, but the 24-year-old appears to be making his at a particularly opportune moment, with Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis both away on World Cup duty. There are still five locks competing for two starting berths in Richard Cockerill’s team, but the coaches appear convinced that Carmichael has the leadership qualities required to make him a regular starter over the opening months of the season, particularly in the lineout.
“Lineouts are something that I pride myself on,” Carmichael said after Saturday’s match. “I like to think of myself as being very good at lineouts and I love leading it, taking charge of it.
“I was calling the lineouts today for the first 55 minutes, when I came off, and I think they went very well. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed and hopefully I’ll continue to do so.
“I’m absolutely buzzing to be back out there. It’s just under 15 months since I played my last game of rugby, so I’m glad to be back out there with the boys.”
Glad, and also relieved. It requires a lot of patience to be out for so long, as well as considerable mental strength.
“It is tough,” Carmichael added. “Being out that long, it can get pretty dark at times, but you’ve just got to trust the process that you will come back. You’ve just got to listen to the physios and the strength-and-conditioning coaches – just trust them that you’ll come back to full fitness, to be honest.”
Now that he is back, the second row plans to make the most of the chance he has to become a first choice while Edinburgh’s senior duo are away in Japan. “It is nice, I’m not going to lie. It’s great for Grant Gilchrist and Ben Toolis to be away at the World Cup, but it’s also great for me and other younger guys like Jamie Hodgson that there are opportunities and we’ll get a bit of game time with those boys being away. It’s good for myself and for the squad to get those opportunities.”
Callum Hunter-Hill has just gone on loan to Saracens, but that still leaves plenty of competition for Carmichael. Besides Hodgson, there is experienced former captain Fraser McKenzie, as well as recent signings Murray Douglas – who started alongside Carmichael against Ospreys – and Sam Thomson.
“Competition’s always good – it brings out the best in us,” Carmichael concluded. “It’s good having a lot of second rows there: we all push each other on. The more the merrier, to be honest.”