Ben Toolis glad to be back in Scotland fray after horror debut
During two years spent in the international wilderness, Edinburgh lock Ben Toolis couldn't exactly console himself with warm memories of his, thus far, solitary Scotland cap.
That came as a sin-binned replacement in the calamitous home defeat to Italy in the heart of the 2015 Six Nations which sent the Scots in a tailspin towards a deflating Wooden Spoon whitewash.
“It was unlucky and probably not the best first cap,” reflected Toolis after his return to the national squad. “Hamish Watson got a yellow card that day as well. We just tend to have a laugh about it now. It was a shame it happened – two debuts, two yellow cards. But you just have to get on with things.
“Hamish is playing extremely well. He had three starts on the bounce in the autumn and played really well. I don’t think he’s thinking about the yellow card any more.”
The Queensland-born 24-year-old is clearly delighted to have got the call from Vern Cotter after some impressive displays for Edinburgh.
“Obviously, I’m pleased to be back,” he said. “I’ve been playing a lot and am happy with the way I’m playing, but second row in Scotland is quite difficult.
“Both Grays [Richie and Jonny] and Tim Swinson are at the top of their games at the moment and you’ve got Gilco [Grant Gilchrist] as well. Personally, I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I’ve just got to keep doing my part and keep improving the things I want to improve and the things the coaches want me to improve. Hopefully, I can do that quickly.”
Toolis revealed that the Scotland coaching set-up had stayed in touch with him to offer guidance on how he could force his way back into the Test reckoning.
“It’s not specifically about things I have to do to put myself in front of those boys,” he explained. “It’s the things they want me to work on. They’re happy with the way my defence is coming on but they want a bit more dominance.
“Other than that, they are quite pleased with the way everything is going. My lineout work is really good and they can’t really fault me with the way I’m playing. I’m happy with the feedback I’m getting.”
The Scotland recall is the culmination of a satisfying couple of months for Toolis as Edinburgh have enjoyed a good recovery of form and a morale-boosting surge to the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals under acting head coach Duncan Hodge.
“I think there are 12 boys from Edinburgh who are involved. That’s quite good for us,” said Toolis. “Our season has had its ups and downs, but we are coming off a few good wins and we are into the European quarter-finals now. I’m quite pleased with that and hope we can push on.”
Toolis admitted that the more positive style of play being employed by Hodge was something that suited him.
“Solly [Alan Solomons] had his gameplan and Hodgey has his gameplan as well. After being under Solly for a few years it took a bit of time to adapt to what Hodgey wanted to do, but we all supported it and we all liked the way he wants the game played. We are all enjoying it a lot more now. With the performances against Harlequins we showed people what kind of rugby we can play. It’s now just about being more consistent. We know that if we play well we can beat anyone.
“We are all enjoying the way we are playing. I certainly am. It’s a bit more of a free-flowing game for me. Coming from Australia, I’m used to playing that kind of rugby so I’m enjoying it and the other boys are enjoying it as well.”
Toolis accepted that Edinburgh enjoying more positive results did have a knock-on effect on their representation in a squad so often dominated by Glasgow Warriors.
“You can’t help but think that way,” said the second-row forward. “If a team is playing well then the players are playing well and you would be more inclined to pick those players.
“It can be frustrating at times for good players who are playing in a team that might not be doing very well. Someone might get the nod over them because of the team they’re playing for.
“That’s fair enough and you can’t blame them for that, but if we got on a good roll and started pushing up to the top six then selectors might be more inclined to pick players.”
Toolis clearly has his work cut out to get some game time during the Six Nations in what is now a hotly competitive position but he is determined to put his best foot forward if given the call and banish the memories of that Italy game a couple of years ago.
Then there is the excitement of a Challenge Cup quarter-final against La Rochelle at BT Murrayfield to look forward to and, whisper it, the chance to push on for a place in the final at the same venue in May.
“They are doing quite well in the French Top 14. It will be a tough game. All those European games will be tough but we are looking forward to it, especially at Murrayfield,” said Toolis.
“But if we can get a win and another win in the semi, then the final at Murrayfield would be quite special.”