EDINBURGH will have a timely boost in their quest to secure top six finish in the Pro 12 this season when centre Matt Scott makes his comeback for the club after eight weeks out in their vital clash away to Munster at Irish Independent Park in Cork on Friday evening.
The Scottish side are currently in the final European Champions Cup qualifying spot in the Pro 12 table, but they are only ahead of Munster on points difference, and with Cardiff Blues just a single point behind that pair, the race for that elusive sixth place finish really is too tight to call.
However, a decisive win for either of these sides this weekend would put them in a commanding position going into the last round of matches next Saturday, when Edinburgh host the Blues and Munster are at home to fifth placed Scarlets.
Scott has been out of action since injuring his elbow during his team’s narrow home loss to Connacht at the start of March, but is now determined to make up for lost time by doing all he can to ensure that he leaves the club on a high – ahead of joining Gloucester on a long term contract this summer.
“It would have been sad if that [the Connacht match] was my last game for Edinburgh. Hopefully I will make it through the next couple of weeks and I can have my last game for the club on my terms. It’s a good time to be back when we have something tangible to play for. It would be such a big achievement for the club because our minimum goal for the season was to get top six. I’m going to do everything I can to help the boys get there,” said the 25-year-old,
“Losing is not an option for us this week. We are treating it as a cup final game. Maybe mathematically we might be okay, but we have to go in looking to win. It’s a tough place to win but the guys have done that once or twice over the years so we know we can do it,” he continued.
“They are in the same boat as us. For a club like Munster, with their heritage, [the fear of] not being in the top European competition means they will be more than up for it as well.”
Scott has 34 caps for Scotland and it was not so long ago that he was seen as the man likely to dominate the Scotland number twelve jersey for the next five to ten years, but he has fallen back into a pack which includes Alex Dunbar, Duncan Taylor, Mark Bennett and Peter Horne when it comes to Vern Cotter’s midfield options, after enduring an injury ravaged couple of seasons, and he admits that he feared the worst with this latest setback.
“I got a grade three tear of the medial ligament of the elbow. Luckily, there was enough still attaching it to the bone that I didn’t need surgery. It has been relatively straightforward comeback from injury; it was just a case of waiting for it to heal. I had no complications and the good thing was that I was able to run and do almost everything apart from lift weights with the arm – so I’m feeling good,” he explained.
“If we had had a European game last week I think I would have been fit for that as well. It’s been good to have an extra week to get back into training. I’m feeling fit and happy to be back.”
He was only playing against Connacht in an effort to prove his fitness after missing Scotland’s Six Nations clash against Wales in Cardiff the previous week with a quad injury sustained during training on the Wednesday before the match. Insult was added to injury when his replacement, Taylor, was one of Scotland’s star men during the remainder of the tournament, making a spectacular cover tackle on Tom James against Wales, and scoring a sensational 60 metre try against France.
He is hoping that his switch to England will help reinvigorate his career.
“I will be extremely sad to leave but it is not just a rugby decision, it is a personal decision as well. I did not want to look back on my rugby career and see that I stayed in my comfort zone. I wanted to play in a different league and try to improve myself as a player. I think I respond quite well to challenges like that,” he said.
“If I stayed at Edinburgh my whole career, would I get the most out of my rugby? I don’t know. The only way to know is to try somewhere else. “I have seen a lot of former teammates go down to the Premiership and do really well and speaking to them it has given them a new lease of life for no other reason than it is a new environment. It is like starting a new job, you have new colleagues to impress and all that. It has a bit of everything.” “And it’s exciting to go to a place like Gloucester where rugby is the main sport and they get great crowds every week.”
“Yes there is an element of risk. Obviously people know what I can do at Edinburgh, I’ve been through the academy system and I’m going to a place where I’m less known. But that can work to your advantage. You have to work hard and start from a clean slate. There are pros and cons but I’d rather try something new than think: What if?”
“At the end of season dinner it will be funny to look back. It’s easy to forget sometimes how different your career could have been. I think it will be quite emotional looking back on my time at Edinburgh. Getting my opportunity here changed my life completely and it’s opened many doors for me. Edinburgh is a place I’ll be back to live one day and, who knows, I may even be back here to play one day.”
Before all that there is the small matter of Scotland’s two Test match sojourn to Japan at the end of June – although Scott insists that he is not ready to look that far ahead at this stage.
“It would be great to get on the summer tour but I am focussing on Edinburgh at the moment and getting back to playing again. I have to get back in the Scotland squad, never mind the starting team. I am happy with how my recovery has gone and feel really good, but it will be tough if I am involved this weekend. Going over there for such an important game, we’ve got to do the simple things well,” he surmised
Image: Craig Watson – www.craigwatson.co.uk