GEORGE TURNER has paid tribute to the vital role played by the BT Premiership – and specifically Heriot’s and Melrose – in helping keep him on track during his long, long journey to full international recognition. The 25-year-old hooker earned his first Scotland cap off the bench in Saturday’s victory over Samoa, which crowned a remarkable turnaround in fortunes during the last six months after four frustrating years waiting in vain for a chance to prove himself at Edinburgh.
Between making his for the capital outfit against Leinster in October 2014 and the end of last season, Turner managed only 13 appearances as a substitute and just one start (which came at the end of last season). While his ability was recognised at international level when he was drafted into the Scotland training squad for the 2016 Six Nations, and then picked for Gregor Townsend’s first tour as head coach last summer, he continued to be an outsider at club level until making the switch to Glasgow Warriors for the start of the current campaign.
He then played in the Warriors first nine matches of this season (starting six) before being rested against Leinster last weekend in preparation for his international bow.
“It’s hard to stay confident when you’re not being picked for several years but I played a lot of rugby at Heriot’s and at Melrose and they were always like ‘you are better than this, stick at it’, and my dad always said ‘it’s a slow burn, you’ll get there eventually. It’s hard now but it will come’. It’s been tough but it’s come now and hopefully I can kick on,” said Turner, who understandably seemed slightly dazed after making his debut in front of a full-house at Murrayfield.
“Obviously there were low points but I never wanted to quit. Playing for Heriots wasn’t what I wanted but there was a good bunch of guys there like Phil Smith and Steve Lawrie. They kept me going and I trained hard and kept fit. It paid off.”
“It is nice that it has come but I would much rather have played earlier and got a few caps and more experience up until now. I love rugby. I just want to play.”
While there was, of course, good Scots players blocking his path into the Edinburgh team; the system was also being clogged up by the likes of Australian journeyman James Hilterbrand.
Turner revealed that the toughest period in his long wait for proper recognition at pro level was during the 2015-16 season, when he managed five appearances off the bench while Ross Ford was away on international duty at the World Cup and Stuart McInally was injured, but was then effectively discarded for the rest of the campaign (making it onto the park only three more times during the Six Nations window).
It was a similar situation the following year when he was sent on loan down to London Scottish to get some game time in the English Championship.
“I came off the bench the first game [at London Scottish] and then started four or five games in a row and got 60 or 80 minutes. I hadn’t had that in a long time. When I came back everyone noticed the change – I was much more confident,” he recalled.
“I got really high and then didn’t play for three months. That dropped me right down again. It was gutting.”
The fact that Turner was overlooked for so long at Edinburgh and has since come good at the highest level when given the chance to flourish was not the only damning indictment of the Alan Solomons era on show at the weekend. Winger Lee Jones put in a solid shift for Scotland after being deemed surplus to requirements in the capital and making a similar switch westward in the summer of 2014.
Dougie Fife is also back in the Scotland set-up and featuring regularly for Edinburgh having been rescued from oblivion by the Scotland 7s set-up when he was discarded by Solomons at the end of the 2015-16 season. He could be involved next weekend, depending on the prognosis for Tommy Seymour, who injured his toe on Saturday. A medical bulletin is expected today [Monday].
“It’s been a strange second half of this year. I was [on loan] at London Scottish at the start of the year, then got a couple of games for Edinburgh off the bench, then I was on the summer tour,” reflected Turner.
“I didn’t play [on the tour] but it was an amazing experience, then I moved to Glasgow and played every game except one. There was so much more game time and more confidence for me. And now this has happened. It’s been amazing, it’s come around a bit fast, having waited for it to happen for so long.”
“It’s not sunk in yet. I got my number, and I was presented with my tie and cufflinks. I’ll get my cap upstairs post match. I’m not quite sure how to feel at the moment.”