Edinburgh’s Ben Toolis admits that there is some frustration to be still stuck on one Scotland cap but, after a season stalled by injuries, he is determined to look at things philosophically.
When Jonny Gray was ruled out of the Six Nations finale against Ireland with a chest injury and Tim Swinson promoted to the starting XV, it was Glasgow’s Rob Harley who got the nod to cover second row on the bench. However, the regard with which the Edinburgh lock is held by national coach Vern Cotter and the Scotland management was shown by the fact that Toolis was taken to Dublin as a reserve.
“I was 25th man. It was a bit of fun throwing the ball about. The hotel was good and the food was good,” said the Brisbane-born 23-year-old, who was capped off the bench against Italy in last year’s Six Nations.
“It is good to be involved, but frustrating at the same time to get so close, but still so far. It was good to be around the boys and the game day feel of a Six Nations away match. It also motivates you more to try and push your way in there.”
Along with promising young flanker Hamish Watson, the tournament came a bit too soon after both battled back from injuries, but the tour to Japan must now be a real target.
“Obviously we would love to be involved, but you just need to do it out there on the pitch and make them pick you,” said Toolis, who had to have elbow surgery in September.
“Myself and Hamish have to go out over these next few games and put in some dominant performances and show to ourselves that we have done everything that we can and then it is up to the coaches to decide.”
Toolis admitted that his elevation to full Test level probably came ahead of schedule and he is willing to be patient.
“If someone would have said I would have got a cap last year I wouldn’t have believed them so I’m not too worried about the next one,” he explained.
“In the second-row there is quite a bit of competition so you need to look at those in front of you and try and get better.”
Of course different players develop at different speeds and Toolis has the inspiration of Gray the younger to look up to. The Glasgow captain is a year younger but already on 23 caps and there is a sibling angle which Ben can relate to, as his twin brother and fellow lock Alex is also part of the Edinburgh squad.
Toolis said: “Jonny is a great player. He is young and I think it helps that he has someone like [older brother] Richie playing alongside him to give him a bit of mental ease.
“I know having played with Alex that it is good having someone you are close to involved on game day as well.
“In the national set-up that could help Jonny a lot because I know he talks to his brother about lineouts and stuff like that so they have a special bond.
For now Toolis is fully focused on Edinburgh’s push for a top-six PRO12 finish which continues at Newport Gwent Dragons on Sunday.
With just five league games remaining, the lock knows there is no more room for error.
“Yes definitely,” he agreed. “There are only a few games left and we want to be giving ourselves the best chance of making the top six.
“I think sometimes we eased off during the season because after a good win we expected things just to come, but now it is crunch time and the boys are getting a bit agitated and really want to win.
“We have to make sure each game is important and make sure we are focused and I’m sure we can come away with a win.”
Toolis confessed that he has been considering the league standings, where Edinburgh occupy seventh spot, and remaining fixtures, working out all the permutations.
“You look at the table and who is around you and, it sounds bad, but you want some teams to get beat,” he said. “We just have to focus on our results and go from there.”
A return to the elite European Champions Cup is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and Toolis is burning to earn that experience.
“Playing in the Champions Cup would be pretty special; playing against some of the best in Europe and the world and comparing yourself against your opposite number,” he said.
“It is definitely a major thing the boys want to be a part of next season and I know that is my motivation going into these last few games and trying to give ourselves a chance.
“You will become better as a player playing in that competition.”