Edinburgh star Ally Dickinson is hoping to keep reaping rewards for time spent – literally – eating and sleeping rugby.
The 27-times capped prop forward, who returned over the summer to a club which started him out on the professional route after a seven-year stint at Gloucester, Sale and briefly Moseley, has revealed how his career once needed a wake-up call in the best possible sense.
“I’m not the biggest of props and never will be,” he said.
“So, in response to being told I had to find ways of putting on weight, I’d get up in the middle of the night for a meal or a protein shake.
“Sometimes I’d be answering the call of nature but there were times when I’d set my alarm to maintain the routine. I’d go to bed about 11pm and get up at three o’clock. Then I’d return to bed before rising at 6.30 to go for a run or go to the gym.
“I had always wanted to play for Scotland and that resolve was never tested – not even by getting up in the pitch dark.
“The overnight fuelling was something that was suggested to me and I just did it in order to play for Scotland in a professional career. I found the extra protein was really helping and at the same time I was doing a lot of reading to find ways to further improve that way.
“Sometimes it isn’t always about talent and you have to sit down and draft things out in order to improve. That’s what I did in order to become the best player I could be.
“You never stop learning but I’m old enough now to know what my body can stand. For me it has been about finding a balance.
“I’m not the biggest prop in the world, certainly nowhere near the 120kg that some players in my position are.
“So, my goal is to be strong and fit in order to carry out basics in scrum and line-out. Over the years you just find out what is best for you.”
In fact, Dickinson’s 17st 7lb place him behind fellow Edinburgh props Wicus Blaauw (19st 2lb), Willem Nel (18st 12lb) and Lewis Niven (18st 5lb) but ahead of fellow internationalist Geoff Cross (17st 2lb) on the scales going into Saturday’s Heineken European Cup opener against Munster at Murrayfield.
Dickinson added: “I wasn’t naturally big and strong and I could have bulked up the easy way by eating chippies but I was never brought up like that.
“The only advice I’d give youngsters in copying my regime would be ‘if you want something badly enough you will get it’ while remembering that it’s attending to the little things that can make such a big difference.”
It’s been a difficult start to the campaign for Edinburgh and what would assist, as well as the team adjusting rapidly to new systems, would be for Dickinson to begin his second term in the same try-scoring manner as he arrived while attending to primary chores.
Emerging through the academy system having had time with Dundee High and Heriot’s in the club game, Dickinson earned a reputation as a try-snatcher. He crossed the whitewash five times in his first season – four in the league and another in the European Cup.
He said: “In those first couple of years at Edinburgh I scored quite a few tries and while moving south at the age of 23 was a massive leap for me I felt I gained experience which can now be put at the disposal of what I consider my home club even though I’m from Dundee.”
Coincidentally, Dickinson left Edinburgh for Gloucester at the same time as Ally Strokosch.
Gloucester are also in the same Euro pool this time around and Strokosch has moved to Perpignan whom Edinburgh meet next week.
“It’s a great pool with a trip to Gloucester’s Kingsholm ground something to be enjoyed in due course,” said Dickinson.
“When I was there the ground would start to fill up two hours in advance of kick-off and that can give players a real lift.
“We’ll think about that later, though, as first up are Munster who we have already played in Cork at the start of the current Pro 12 league.”
That fixture brought one of four Edinburgh defeats from five starts and Dickinson admitted: “It’s been tough with the coaching team getting here late but in each game we have improved in certain parts.
“It’s been tough, too, for spectators who probably haven’t seen the improvement but everyone is working so hard – players, staff and others behind the scenes. All you can do when you have lost a few games and people are getting on your back is rise and grind.
“We have to keep putting the work in just as golfers get back on track by knocking out pars which suddenly turn into something better. That’s what we intend to keep doing, convinced that with the work that is going in results will come.
“Rise and grind might be a bit of a cliche but I’m convinced it’ll bring results for Edinburgh.
“Every day you aim to get better and better and, with rugby being so unpredictable, we really have nothing to lose going in against Munster.”