Grant Gilchrist freely admits that the prospect of his 100th appearance for Edinburgh, which will come tomorrow night at Myreside against Dragons if selected, is a more alluring prospect now than it would have been amidst what he described as the “dark place” of last season.
The 27-year-old lock forward is the first to admit that last term unfolded as a bit of a personal and collective nightmare but added his voice to the chorus of positivity surrounding head coach Richard Cockerill’s new-broom tenure, which got off to a winning competitive start with a 20-10 sucess at Cardiff on the opening night of the Guinness Pro14 campaign.
Gilchrist started 2016-17 as co-captain along with hooker Stuart McInally but struggled for form as Edinburgh registered yet another underwhelming campaign.
“I wasn’t my best,” said the 16-times capped forward from Alloa. “I let things affect me with the way the team was playing. I tried to shoulder a lot of stuff which clouded the way I was playing.
“I learnt a lot last year about what actually is important to the team which is, number one, me making sure my role is done well and not clouding my head with other stuff. Do your job well is the best thing you can do for the team as a leader.”
Ross Ford, Scotland’s most capped player, took on the captaincy towards the end of the season although Cockerill has selected 22-year-old back-rower Magnus Bradbury as his youthful skipper, but Gilchrist insisted that doesn’t mean he will be easing off.
“I don’t relax. I still see myself as having a big leadership role in the team,” he said. “I’m right behind Magnus and anything he needs; I’m there, along with the other senior players. I certainly learned a lesson about what it takes for me to play at my best. The things that matter and the things that don’t.”
Gilchrist, back in October 2014, suffered the first of two broken arms in a couple of years just after being named as Scotland captain by Vern Cotter for the autumn Test series of that year. Had the talented second row not suffered that cruel fate, and the subsequent setback, he might well have established himself in that role and certainly be way beyond a century of appearances for the club by now.
Cotter remained a fan of the player and brought him straight into the Scotland team to face Italy when Richie Gray pulled out injured from this year’s final Six Nations match.
However, Gilchrist doesn’t shy away from the fact it was a poor season for him and is now looking to show the Edinburgh supporters that he is back to his best, starting tomorrow night.
“It’s great to be [reaching the landmark] when I’m excited about the season ahead,” he said. “I’m enjoying my rugby and starting to feel like I’m getting back to my best. Obviously I’ve got a lot of things to work on but it’s good at the moment.
“It’s a few years ago now since my debut but it’s obviously a proud moment for me. I’m passionate about this club and have been for a number of years. Making 100 games for Edinburgh is something I’ll be really proud of. But first and foremost it’s a game we want and need to win so my focus will be purely on that.”
When you add the wins against tomorrow’s opposition Dragons and Glasgow at the end of last season to the win in Cardiff it means that Edinburgh could post four Pro12/14 wins in a row for the first time since September/October 2015 if they can repeat their April triumph over the men from Newport-Gwent.
Cockerill has highlighted Edinburgh’s traditional frailty of following up a good performance with a stinker. Asked how he felt when the new boss makes such an observation, Gilchrist replied: “Determined to put it right.
“It’s true. We can’t hide from the fact. Last season we beat Harlequins and then followed it up by losing at home to Zebre. We are the ones who need to fix that. I don’t like the sound of that and don’t want to be associated with that. We are the people in the room and we need to put that right. We’ve got a great opportunity this weekend.
“We got the result and performance we were after last weekend. There’s a lot to work on but it’s got to be backed up.”