Geoff Cross may only have started one match for Edinburgh Rugby this season, but there is no question he has made a mark – literally – on the Scotland squad.
Included on the bench for Sunday’s Six Nations opener with Ireland in Dublin, Cross was in a full-contact collision with Tim Swinson which not only left the second row requiring stitches but exposed a phobia within the 6ft 4in and 18-stone second row.
Fingering stitching under his eye, Swinson, who will be gaining his fourth cap this weekend, said: “Geoff Cross head-butted me in training (and) he unfortunately came off worse; he looks like Harry Potter with a nice scar on his forehead.”
As a qualified doctor, Cross could easily have applied the sutures, but Swinson insisted that he be handled with particular care.
“I wouldn’t have let Geoff near me to put stitches in,” he admitted.
“Once I got the blood off, I was a bit annoyed because I don’t like needles, I don’t like injections and I don’t like being stitched. I knew what was coming. I’ve had eighty stitches altogether in my career and, if I’d been trying to hang on to good looks, I’d be screwed by now.
“It has got a lot better (being stitched) and I am comfortable with some doctors treating me more than others.
“Once, in Ireland, the local team doctor was about to stitch a cut for me, but I wouldn’t let him. That’s because I had faith in the Glasgow team doctor.
“Really, it is the injection that bothers me. Once I get that I’m okay.”
In fact, Glasgow ace Swinson, who qualifies for Scotland through a maternal grandmother and was Newcastle Falcons’ player of the season before moving north in 2011, feared a Six Nations debut might have been jeopardised.
He said: “The first thing I thought of after the clash of heads was that my cheekbone was broken. Thankfully, my cheek is harder than Geoff’s forehead.”
Injury prevented Swinson building on a man-of-the-match performance on his first appearance at Murrayfield against Japan last November, but he is now back ready for another new experience to add to being capped on tour and in the annual Autumn series. “I’ve been very lucky over past five years in that I’ve not had many injuries. It just so happens I got one in the Autumn. That’s something I have to deal with and move on from.
“It seems every time I face the media, though, I’m told it is my second or third debut.
“Always, playing for Scotland is a huge honour, something you should never expect.”
Swinson has got the nod over Richie Gray, the only Scot to play Test rugby for the Lions last summer. How does he feel about keeping a Lion on the bench while Jim Hamilton fills the other second row spot? He said: “It’s not my decision. There’s huge competition with Richie, myself, Jonny Gray, Jim Hamilton and Grant Gilchrist.
“That’s five guys who are all Test players and it is friendly rivalry with us all trying to bring the best out of each other.
“There’s certainly no vendettas and I’m just grateful for a chance to prove myself and play to best of my ability. It will be a new experience, though, and when you try something new you are never quite sure how you will fare. Luckily, I seemed to play well in South Africa on tour and against Japan. Hopefully, I can take that into the Irish game and put pressure on the coaches to pick me the following weekend against England.”
In fact, Swinson was named Scotland’s most improved player over the summer and coach Scott Johnson said: “Tim’s history at Test level has been exemplary. His last game against Japan was superb. He did wonderfully well for us in the summer against formidable opposition and his regional form has been good. All those deserve a run.
“Swinno has played No.6, too. He is an exceptionally good athlete and an underrated line-out forward. He is certainly physical, but very mobile. I like that.
“He and Ryan Wilson are not afraid to go into dark places. Some blokes have to bring torches. He goes there naturally.”
Scotland team to play Ireland at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin on Sunday, February 2 (kick-off 3pm): Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors), Sean Maitland (Glasgow Warriors), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Taylor (Saracens), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Duncan Weir (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby), Moray Low (Glasgow Warriors), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Montpellier), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Saracens, capt), David Denton (Edinburgh Rugby).
Substitutes: Pat MacArthur (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby), Geoff Cross (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Gray (Castres), Johnnie Beattie (Montpellier), Chris Cusiter (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Max Evans (Castres).
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa). Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa) and Mike Fraser (New Zealand). TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)