SAM Skinner is on course to make a comeback from injury in January – just in time to be included in the Scotland squad for the Six Nations Championship. The way the fixture list pans out, there is a good chance that, provided his recovery continues on schedule, the Exeter lock’s first game back will be against Glasgow in the Champions Cup at Scotstoun.
The 24-year-old, who made his Scotland debut almost exactly a year ago against Fiji, seemed sure to be named in Gregor Townsend’s squad for the World Cup, only to tear a hamstring in the warm-up match against France at Murrayfield in August. Now, two months after an operation to repair the damage, he is firmly on the road to recovery, and is confident that he will be available to play for his club just after the turn of the year – with, he hopes, a Scotland recall to follow quickly.
“I tore my hamstring in the France game and am two months post-operation now,” Skinner said at the Champions Cup launch in Cardiff on Wednesday. “I felt a couple of rips down my hamstring and I knew that was it.
“I was in the jackal position and was cleared out perfectly straight and square. My flexibility didn’t allow for my hamstring to keep going.
“I’m looking to be back around New Year time. I’ve been in the gym and have now done my first running session, which went really well. I have to be careful as the problem with hamstrings is that they can feel great then go again.
“I’m not a sports-car, fast-type winger and don’t have to hit that top-end speed. I have to get back stronger and better than I was before.”
The Chiefs’ last two Champions Cup pool games are against the Warriors at Scotstoun on 11 January and then at home to La Rochelle a week later. Competition is intense in a squad that has finished the regular season top of the Premiership for the last two years, but Skinner aims to be available for selection by then, with, he hopes, an international recall to follow.
“Yeah, that is the plan,” he added. “I am sure the [Exeter] squad will be going well by then. I will have to work hard to get some game time. The Six Nations is a definite possibility, but I will have to get back playing for Exeter first.
“My ambition in the long run is to play in a World Cup, and that will be a massive driving force for me over the next four years. The only way I can do that is playing well for Exeter, and when I get the chance to play for Scotland, make the most of it.”
Skinner’s ability to play the 5/6 role would have been particularly valuable in Japan given the relatively small size of the squads allowed at the World Cup. Instead, he could only watch the games from the discomfort of his own sofa.
“I was thoroughly enjoying the pre-season with Scotland and felt in a really good place – the best I have been in my career to date. I was gutted to miss the chance to go to a World Cup, but life goes on. I want to move on and crack on to try and get more Scotland honours.
“I watched every Scotland game. I watched four in my house, one in Cornwall with my dad. I should not have invited him round. We are both extremely patriotic and enthusiastic for Scotland.
“I don’t know where I would have fitted [in the team], but I would have hoped to be involved in the games. It’s tough to watch when you wanted to be involved.”
Skinner has not been totally isolated since his injury, and has been able to spend some time with his Scotland team-mate Stuart Hogg, a summer signing by Exeter from the Warriors. “Socially he’s fitted in well,” the forward said of the full-back, who made his debut for the Chiefs late last month.
“Calls-wise he has a lot to learn, but he’s a world-class player. I’m happy for him: he’s settled in well, his family is down here, and he has enjoyed it and he’s excited to kick on now. He came down last season and we had a few beers, which was enjoyable. We had a nice fireworks night and he knows a few of the boys from Lions tours.”