TWELVE months ago, a young Edinburgh Rugby player used Melrose’s British and Irish Cup campaign as a springboard to really launch his career.
Returning to the pro ranks soon after, Dave Denton established himself with two man-of-the match performances for Edinburgh and, before the season ended, he had been included in an extended Scotland World Cup squad going on to make a debut in the warm-up fixture with Ireland.
Could history be repeating itself? Hooker Alun Walker comes off the back of a series of B&I Cup outings for Melrose straight on to the Edinburgh bench for Monday’s RaboDirect Pro 12 derby with Glasgow at Murrayfield (5.35pm) which also carries the venerable 1872 Cup over the home and away legs of the fixture.
“There is absolutely no doubt I take this as a vote of confidence in my abilities to be included in the matchday squad for such a big game,” says Walker, who previously sampled club action with Musselburgh and Currie.
“When the senior players were away at the World Cup in the Autumn a few of us were given opportunities and now that they are back the coaches are still willing to recognise the younger lads on occasions.”
Walker, 21, can draw on seven previous bench appearances over the past two seasons while waiting patiently for a start.
“I can’t expect to displace Ross Ford, a British and Irish Lion, very easily but the upside to that situation is he’s a tremendous player to learn off while Andy Kelly and Steve Lawrie (both A cap hookers) have been more than willing to pass on tips as well.
“I’ve faced the likes of Munster and Llanelli but this will be the biggest match of my career should I get on and I aim to reward the coaches for the faith they have shown in me.”
Meanwhile, Ryan Grant returns to Murrayfield on Monday determined to show old club Edinburgh Rugby what they are missing.
The 25-year-old prop forward turns out for Glasgow Warriors having previously spent three seasons at Edinburgh during which he managed only two starts. The one-time soldier – he served in the Royal Signals – bears no bitterness but does intend to use some inside knowledge to ensure that Glasgow retain a trophy gained on aggregate by a single point.
“It’s true I didn’t get a lot of opportunity at Edinburgh but I did learn a lot under coaches Andy Robinson and Rob Moffat.
“So far as my opposite number, Geoff Cross, is concerned we have known each other since I was an apprentice. He’s a tricky customer who has proved himself on the international stage. On the other side of the front row Allan Jacobsen’s record (60 caps) speaks for itself and he has just become Edinburgh’s latest player of the month so he’s not resting. On the contrary he’ll come out firing.
“Elsewhere there are players in the Edinburgh team who are dangerous, too. For example we must make sure Tim Visser isn’t running wild and I played with Greig Laidlaw in age group rugby so I know he is a class individual. I also see Netani Talei as an incredible ball carrier alongside Dave Denton who has been playing well too.
“We have to work out ways of stopping these guys and while I didn’t play much with Edinburgh I did have an opportunity to see the derby build-up from both sides and there is definitely a huge buzz around the fixture and more than ever this year.”
Both teams are in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup but according to Grant there is even more to it than maintaining momentum for the final two rounds of the qualification process.
“League points are up for grabs and for Glasgow that means trying to consolidate our place among the top four teams who will eventually contest the play-offs while Edinburgh will want to push up the table a bit nearer the top four.”
For Grant it will be a chance to move forward from when he made the provisional Scottish World Cup squad only to miss the final cut.
“The World cup squad was a bit frustrating but it was good to see how those boys who made it carried themselves and trained. That experience made me a fitter and stronger player besides broadening my rugby knowledge.
“Regardless of missing out on the trip to New Zealand I was given a huge honour just to be involved in the extended group and there is still time to get a cap. Hopefully it will come.”