AFTER more than three months out of action with a knee injury, and having missed the entire first half of Edinburgh’s season, Sam Skinner is poised to make his comeback for Edinburgh when they play Gloucester in the Challenge Cup on Saturday.
The return to play could not have come at a more opportune time for the 28-year-old lock forward. He last played against Romania in the Rugby World Cup at the end of September, and with Gregor Townsend due to announce his Scotland squad for the Six Nations in the coming days, the game at the Hive gives Skinner the ideal chance to prove that he is match-fit and more than ready to add to the 30 caps he has to date.
Realistically, that track record should be enough to ensure that Skinner is selected by the national coach even if he has an unremarkable outing at the Hive Stadium at the weekend. Nevertheless, after so long on the sidelines, he is understandably eager to return to action – especially as he was so close to making a comeback a fortnight ago only to be required to wait a little longer.
“I started training a couple of weeks ago and, in theory, I was fit for selection for the second of the two Glasgow games,” he explained. “But I wasn’t running around like a professional athlete – in terms of the mechanics, rather than fitness. But this week I’m running around feeling like I can really apply myself, which is a great feeling, because it’s been a challenging period.
“I feel back to my normal self, to be honest. Got the body MOT’d properly and we’re ready to go again, which is amazing. It feels great to be training with the lads and being able to apply myself 100 per cent.
“The last time I played was the Romania game. I was due to play in the Dragons game [Edinburgh’s first fixture of the URC season], but I pulled up in the warm-up and it’s been a really bizarre period. But these things happen.
“It was my knee. I carried it through the World Cup a little bit, then I came back, feeling good, but it just blew up in training. I won’t bore you with the details as it was a bit of a complicated one, but we finally got there in the end.”
During his time on the sidelines, Skinner agreed a new two-year contract with Edinburgh, the team he joined from Exeter Chiefs in 2022. As an established international with 30 caps to his name, he could easily have sought employment elsewhere, but did not take too long to decide that he wanted to prolong his stay in the capital.
“I’ve loved my time here,” he explained. “It’s been brilliant, and I’ve been desperate to apply myself for the group, so it was a no-brainer for me.”
The game against Gloucester will evoke fond memories for him of his time as an Exeter player, particularly of one European tie. “I’ve had some great games against Gloucester,” he recalled.
“We went away against them in Europe just after we’d lost at home to them and we needed five points to keep our campaign alive – and we got it. It was back when you had double-headers in the group stage, which I preferred, to be honest – I loved that set-up. That was a good fixture.”
There is nothing quite so cut-throat about Saturday’s tie. With two rounds of games to go in the pool, Gloucester are three points clear of Edinburgh and three other teams, but with four of the six sides qualifying for the last 16, everyone still has some margin for error.
All the same, given the match is the first of the year and of the second half of the season for them, Skinner and team-mates will be well motivated to get a result. “It’s a massive game,” he said. “I’m hearing it’s a sell-out, which is amazing.
“That gives us a real lift as a group of players when we feel we’re connecting with the fans and putting in performances they deserve and we deserve. We’ve laid a really good foundation for our season, and it’s maybe not a must-win but this is us starting the second half of our season and it’s massive. A big game for us.”
It is indeed a big game for all of the Edinburgh side, but it is surely especially significant for Skinner as he seeks to cement that place in Townsend’s Six Nations squad. “Exactly,” he added. “That’s exactly it.”